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With the rapid evolution of cinematography, it has become popular to translate books into movies. It is difficult to find a classical literature book that has never been made into a movie. For millions of people around the world, movies have provided a better understanding of the plots and hidden meanings presented in the literature. Screen adaptations of classical and modern works of literature bring millions of dollars to their producers and waves of pleasure to the audience. Certainly, the ways in which the original source and its screen adaptation differ from each other cannot be ignored. Oftentimes, movie producers have to re-interpret and even change the original plot in order to make it more suitable for screen adaptation or more dramatic and commercially attractive to the audience. This is what happened to Jodi Picoult’s My Sister Keeper. In 2009, Nick Cassavetes presented his screen version of the bestselling book. Starring Cameron Diaz and Alec Baldwin, the movie attracted millions of positive and negative reviews. The story of a young girl, who is dying of cancer and whose younger sister was conceived through IVF to become her organ donor, has generated controversial public reactions. However, while the book ends with the tragic death of Anna and her elder sister’s successful recovery, it is Kate who dies in the movie as Anna refuses to donate her kidney to the sister; for this reason, the movie presents a more realistic and less controversial picture of the organ donation problem while also altering the original literary intent of the book.
Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper has become a bestseller. The story of a 13-year-old girl Kate, who is dying of leukemia and whose younger sister Anna was conceived to become Kate’s organ donor, does not leave any room for indifference. Picoult speaks about the problem of organ donation and the ethical and legal controversies surrounding it. In her book, Anna, a young lady whose entire life had to be devoted to saving her sister from the imminent death, sues her parents in an attempt to become medically emancipated. The book review published by The Guardian speaks about the unreasonable and, at the same time, unavoidable emotions, which the original book generates in its readers. Not surprisingly, just a few years after being published, the book was translated into a movie. With Cameron Diaz playing the role of Sara, Kate’s and Anna’s mother, and Alec Baldwin functioning as Anna’s lawyer, the movie had to draw tangible profits and public recognition. Unfortunately, the movie producers decided to change the end of the story, thus making the film more realistic, generating considerable dissatisfaction among Picoult’s readers, and altering the original intent of the book.
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The book and the movie bear numerous plot commonalities. Basically, both the book and the movie exemplify a complex network of the first-person narratives that revolve around the themes of cancer and organ donation. It is the story of the Fitzgerald family: mother, father, and three children. One of them, Kate, is having leukemia, whereas another one, Anna, is expected to sacrifice her own life to ensure Kate’s successful and healthy future. Suffice it to say, Anna was not in her parents’ plans until they realized they could find a suitable donor for Kate. Now, Anna’s life is focused on Kate’s survival, and she feels as if she does not own her body.
“There is way too much to explain – my own blood sleeping into my sister’s veins; the nurses holding me down to stick me for white cells Kate might borrow; the doctor saying they didn’t get enough the first time around. The bruises and the deep bone ache after I gave up my marrow; the shots that sparked more stem cells in me, so that there’d be extra for my sister” (Picoult 19).
All these words are translated into visible images and painful scenes scattered all over the movie. It should be noted that although the movie producers tried to follow the system of the first-person narratives presented in Picoult’s book, they managed to make the movie and its plot much more organizd. As a result, while the book reviews the life of a cancer child through the eyes of each family member, the movie provides the audience with a unique opportunity to become a part of the Fitzgerald family. Consequently, and as Sarah Sluis writes, the audience looks at the Fitzgerald family not through a picture glass-window but as one of its members.
Both the book and the movie present the Fitzgerald family in almost identical colors. It is the family of five, two parents and three children: Kate, Anna, and Jesse. Sara and Brian, Kate’s parents, are fighting hard to put off their daughter’s tragic end. The book and the movie speak about Sara’s confusion and loss as she is doing her best to combat the cruel disease that is killing her child. She does a good job being a mother. In Picoult’s book, Sara confesses that she is much better at being a mother than she could have been a professional lawyer (27). In the movie, the thought that Sara is a good mother is taken for granted. The movie producers have also shifted the emphasis from Sara’s being a cruel procreator towards being a lost, confused, and vulnerable woman. In the movie, the decision to conceive Anna as a potential donor for Kate looks like a measure of the last resort. It is a step that is both morally dicey and bold (Tubbs). Anna is a complete genetic match of her elder sister Kate (Tubbs). However, as she grows older, she is no longer willing to accept this role.
The last and most essential commonality is the legal battle between Anna and her parents. In both the book and the movie, Anna goes to find a distinguished lawyer, who will help her gain medical emancipation from her parents. Alec Baldwin seems the most suitable for this role, and Anna willingly accepts his line of defense to achieve her goal. Both the book and the movie are presented as a series of recurrent cycles: Kate and Anna undergo hospitalizations and painful medical procedures; Kate falls into remission and gets back into sickness; Anna goes to the court with her lawyer to prove the point; and the life of one girl is at stake and has the potential (but not necessarily) to save the life of another girl. Like her book character, Cameron Diaz’s Sara gives up her professional strivings to focus on her family and children. Like her book character, Anna is not willing to sacrifice her life, when the chances to save Kate are meager. As a result, she is very decisive about getting medical emancipation and becoming more independent in the decisions concerning her body.
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Certainly, not everything presented in the book has been reflected in the movie. To begin with, in her book, Jodi Picoult emphasizes the significance of Anna’s relationship with her father. Actually, in Picoult’s book, Brian represents an essential connection element between Anna and the rest of the world. By contrast, the movie does not mention this father-daughter link; consequently, there is a persistent impression that something in the Fitzgerald family is constantly missing. The moment Anna and her father go to the firehouse and spend a night there is one of the crucial moments of the book. It is a moment of revelation for Anna, as well as for her father. It is a place where their blood and spiritual connection suddenly (and unexpectedly) intensifies. It is in the firehouse where Anna finds some peace for her body and soul. Here, she can speak out her most hidden thoughts. Picoult writes that “fire and hope” are connected, and without these scenes, the movie loses much of its focus (219).
Unlike the movie, in the book, the firehouse becomes a place of the most serious moral battles. In the firehouse, Anna’s father, Brian, finally confesses that he accepts Anna’s position and believes that she is right in her emancipation claims (Picoult 220). By dividing her novel into separate days and incorporating flashbacks, Picoult enables the reader to see another, more humane side of everyone in the Fitzgerald family, including Anna and Brian (Anonymous). This is why, in the movie, Anna looks much lonelier and isolated from her family members than she is in the book. In this sense, the movie looks more realistic but not as hopeful and family-oriented as the original book.
Another important contrast between the book and movie is in the way Anna’s sister, Kate, perceivees her life and the world around her. The original book emphasizes Kate’s willingness to survive and live despite all physical and emotional hardships. By contrast, the movie presents a poor girl diagnosed with cancer, who slowly reconciles with her tragic fate and finally admits that she no longer wants to live. The movie producers have decided to make everything easier for the characters and the audience, and Kate’s voluntary decision to die in the movie relieves the spiritual, moral, and ethical battles facing Anna and the Fitzgerald family in the original book. Anna no longer needs to donate her kidney to Kate. Sara, whose desire to save Kate from cancer has grown into obsession, has but to accept her daughter’s position. By showing Kate’s willingness to die, the movie producers tried to resolve the emerging dilemma – should parents favor one child over another? (Tubbs). If Kate wants to die, then Anna will not have to favor her sister at the expense of her future physical and emotional wellbeing. Again, these differences in plot distort the original intent of the book, making it more realistic but, at the same time, absolutely hopeless.
Finally, and most importantly, it is the end of the story that generates the most controversial responses: while the book ends with Anna’s death in a fatal car accident and her kidney going to her elder sister, it is Kate who dies in the movie, since Anna wins the emancipation case in court and refuses to donate her kidney to the sister. Consequently, the movie sounds much more realistic but, at the same time, fails to deliver the original intent of Jodi Picoult’s book. Picoult obviously sought any possible opportunity to let Kate save her life and combat cancer. Moreover, the results of a short survey suggest that the audience does not accept the way the movie producers have changed the plot. One of the survey participants confessed that, if she had not read Jodi Picoult’s book before seeing the movie, her reaction to it would have been much more tolerant. 8 out of 10 survey participants said that the book sounded much kinder and more hopeful than the film, and they could not accept the fact that Kate was fated to die. For 6 out of 10 survey participants, Anna’s character in the movie included the elements of cynicism and coldness, as compared to the sufferings and emotional confusion she had experienced in the book.
Overall, it seems that the basic intent of Jodi Picoult’s book was to emphasize the importance of hope and faith. Also, Picoult tried to tell the audience that humans could not be omnipotent. According to Picoult, the car accident that killed Anna and automatically turned her into Kate’s kidney donor was organized by some unknown forces, the forces which none of the Fitzgerald family could control. Those unknown forces decided that Anna had to sacrifice her life to save Kate. Simultaneously, Picoult was trying to say that it is Anna’s decision to go to the court that eventually killed her: “If Anna had never filed that lawsuit, if she hadn’t been at the courthouse signing papers with her attorney, she never would have been at that particular intersection at that particular moment” (Picoult 421). Everything in this life has its consequences, but the audience deserved to hear the story of salvation and hope written by Picoult, no matter how unrealistic it could sound.
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Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper has become a bestseller. Not surprisingly, it was later translated into a movie. However, the movie producers have decided to change the story’s end. Unlike the book, where Anna dies in a fatal car accident with her kidney eventually going to Kate, it is Kate who dies in the movie because Anna does not want to donate her kidney to the sister. In many aspects, the movie looks much more realistic and dramatic than the book, but it also fails to communicate the message of hope and faith presented in the original story. What Jodi Picoult tried to say was that everyone had the right to hope and run for the better. The author also implied that every action and decision would always have its consequences. For Anna, her decision to go to the court and file a lawsuit predetermined her tragic fate. Apparently, the audience had the right to hear the story of tragic salvation, no matter how unrealistic it could sound.
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