“Mildred Pierce”: a comparison of the novel and the film:
Often critics argue that it is impossible to create a film as successful as the book it is based on. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember about the fact that film can substantially differ from the book that does not necessarily mean that it is worse or better than a book. In this respect, it is possible to refer to Mildred Pierce by James Cain, a story about love and betrayal, on the basis of which the film was created. As a result, the audience has got a chance to watch the story based on the book but presented in a different way and even having different plot elements and ideas.
In fact, the difference between the film and the book is obvious even from the setting. The scene in the book takes place during the hard era of depression in America, when people were struggling to survive in difficult conditions. The film, however, makes no reference to the contemporary situation in the country: economic crisis, which led to the preoccupation with money. The story about Mildred Pierce shows the dependence of men on women’s finances, caused by joblessness. It makes people think of how changes in the roles of men and women lead to changes in their relations. Monty Beragon became a rich man due to his family prosperity. He got used to such a lifestyle and spent savings of Mildred without a remorse.
In such a way, the story shows the influence of environment, habits and life troubles on a personality during the era of Great Depression. Mildred’s husband Bert became financially unstable, after he lost his business. It is important to mention that his wife is obviously stronger than him, because she manages to overcome life hardships. It symbolizes the strength of women and weakness of men during the Great Depression. At first Mildred cooks and sells pies, struggling to make both ends meet, although it is undoubtedly not enough to fulfill children’s needs. But her persistence helps her to reach higher status. Mildred possesses a rebellious characteristic features. She refuses to accept traditional female roles and climbs the social ladder to the position of a prominent businesswoman.
Furthermore, the plots of the book and the film have common direction, but are focused on different aspects. Basically, the film is focused on the relations between genders, namely between Mildred and men. In contrast, the book is more concerned on the problems of parents and children. In such a way, the film and the book prove to be thematically split and the book seems to be more concerned on traditional familial values while the film raises the problem of relationships between sexes and the position of women in modern society.
In contrast, the book reveals the desperation of a woman that sacrifices her marriage for the sake of her daughter, Veda, which appears to be ungrateful. Mildred is ready to do everything for the sake of her children:
I’m determined to do the best I can for them. If I can’t do it with you, I’ll do it without you (Cain, 1989).
But Veda disenchants her mother. In fact, Veda personifies a new type of people who has lost traditional familial values and whose consumerism dominates over all other values. As a result, the girl proclaims that she is pregnant and accuses the son of a wealthy family in it. Mildred understands the character of her daughter and the extent to which she is immoral since Veda has sexual relationships with a partner whom she did not even love and, what is more, Mildred catches her own husband Monty with Veda in the bedroom that is an unimaginable violation all moral norms the main character believed in.
In his novel Cain wrote about an ambitious housewife who managed to gain prosperity in restaurant business, but had a negative love experience. The story actually shows how one woman turns out to be strong enough to overcome betrayal of her husband, daughter and lover, along with business troubles. Mildred’s daughter Veda fulfills her own wishes and needs, and doesn’t care about her treachery towards her mother.
Along with the thematic difference, it is possible to trace the difference in the narration and structure of the book and the film. The book is narrated by the third person, while the film has a background voice of Mildred herself that brings in a narrator in the structure of the film that helps viewers better understand the main character and her thoughts and beliefs. In the film, Veda was brought for questioning for murdering Monty Beragon, who had hurt her. And Mildred understood that Veda ought to start feeling responsibility for her actions. The film and the novel have many differences, the major of which is the introduction of a murder that was supposed to captivate the attention of the viewers. Besides, the tightening of the plot simplified the narration, and there were not as much characters in the film as in the novel. The film is also exaggerated: instead of three restaurants, Mildred becomes an owner of the whole restaurant chain. In such a way, the film director rather created a new thriller, than a film, based on “Mildred Pierce” by James Cain.
The denouement of the film and the book also differs considerably. Unlike the film, in the book Monty and Veda end up leaving for New York, while Mildred reunites with her former husband Herbert. The film, however, is more like a thriller, because the plot here is enriched with a murder.
Also, it is possible to trace the difference in genre of the book and the film. The book is basically a kind of drama with a serious conflict within the family. The film “Mildred Pierce” is a mixture of a noir film and a soap-opera (Dirks). The main difference between the film and the novel is the style of depiction. The film producer tried to adapt it to the requirements of typical noir films creating a kind of thriller.
At the same time it is necessary to underline that both the film and the book are stylistically rich and have their unique stylistic details and artistic devices. There are many symbolic elements in Cain’s story, which are not seen in the film. For example, if to take the scene of confrontation between Mildred and Monty at the time of a rainstorm, it is visible that all feelings and emotions of Mildred are reflected in the nasty weather. As for the film, it is also stylistically rich. For instance, there are three flashbacks which help better understand the plot of the story and the actions of characters.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that two versions of “Mildred Pierce” have differences in plot, genre, narration, setting and the number of characters. The most striking difference is introduction of a crime in the film. Nevertheless, both of them contain an idea of love and betrayal, and show changes in the roles of men and women in the hard times of 1940s.
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