Slaughterhouse Five: The Novel And The Movie

4341 words - 17 pages

Slaughterhouse-Five: The Novel and the Movie


In 1972 director George Roy Hill released his screen
adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (or The
Children's Crusade; A Duty Dance With Death). The film made
over 4 million dollars and was touted as an "artistic
success" by Vonnegut (Film Comment, 41). In fact, in an
interview with Film Comment in 1985, Vonnegut called the
film a "flawless translation" of his novel, which can be
considered an honest assessment in light of his reviews of
other adaptations of his works: Happy Birthday, Wanda June
(1971) "turned out so abominably" that he asked to have his
name removed from it; and he found Slapstick of Another Kind
(1984) to be "perfectly horrible" (41,44). (This article was
writen prior to Showtime's Harrison Bergeron, and Fine
Line's Mother Night). A number of other Vonnegut novels have
been optioned, but the film projects have either been
abandoned during production or never advanced beyond an
unproduced screenplay adaptation, indicating the difficulty
of translating Vonnegut to the silver screen. So why does
Slaughterhouse-Five succeed where others fail? The answer
lies in how the source is interpreted on screen. Overall,
while there are some discrepancies that yield varying
results, the film is a faithful adaptation that succeeds in
translating the printed words into visual elements and
sounds which convincingly convey the novel's themes.

While Vonnegut's literary style is very noticeable in
Slaughterhouse-Five, the novel as a whole differs from the
majority of his other works because it is personal with an
interesting point of view technique that reflects
Vonnegut's own experiences in World War II and specifically,
the fire-bombing of Dresden. Slaughterhouse-Five has two
narrators, an impersonal one and a personal one, resulting
in a novel not only about Dresden but also about the actual
act of writing a novel - in this case a novel about an event
that has shaped the author profoundly. The novel's themes of
cruelty, innocence, free will, regeneration, survival, time,
and war recur throughout Vonnegut's novels, as do some of
his characters, which are typically caricatures of ideas
with little depth. Another mainstay is his use of historical
and fictional sources, and yet another is his preference for
description over dialogue. These aspects of Vonnegut's
literary style make the adaptation of Vonnegut to the screen
all the more difficult. Ironically, many Vonnegut novels
flow with a cinematic fluidity. As described in Film
Comment, "Vonnegut's literary vocabulary has included the
printed page equivalents of jump-cuts, montages, fades, and
flashbacks. And his printed pace even feels filmic, as he
packs his scenes tightly together, butting them against each
other for maximum, often jarring, effect"...

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