Child of God

Cormac McCarthy’s treatise on loneliness, isolation, sexual deviancy and murder is hardly traditional movie adaptation fodder, its up there with one of the least joyful books I have read. This doesn’t detract from its power, and it is a thought provoking piece, so it was with interest, some trepidation, and the absolute understanding that it probably wasn’t going to be a bag of laughs that I sat down to watch James Francos attempt to commit it to film. There is a real sense of commitment to the material here; there is no shying away from the obviously challenging source material. To maintain this integrity is something to be admired. Scott Haze as Lester Ballard is absolutely convincing, achieving empathy for the character was always going to be problematic, but there are moments here, before his complete descent into deprivation, that one could almost like him. His performance is outstanding. The real problem lies in the way in which the original book worked because of its fluidity and ambiguity, none of which really translates effectively here. It feels more like the fable of a man outcast by society and his response, whereas McCarthy never really articulated it in such a down the line, cause and effect, fashion. Equally troubling is the depiction of Ballard as outwardly mentally ill, so much of the nuance of his internal monologue is lost in the process of having him have to vocalise his thoughts. Finally the ending is different from the novel. Clearly no one makes adaptations simply to have them compared to the original, but the change here is dramatic enough that any literature student who watches the film as a short cut will undoubtedly fail any exam asking what they believe the fundamental consequences of the ending are. It is an interesting film, and undoubtedly a well made attempt to tackle difficult material, but in the end it doesn’t get you thinking in the same way the novel does.

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