“The Sun Also Rises” is a novel set in Paris in the aftermath of WWI that explores the pleasure-driven lifestyles of the characters. This sample essay explores the differences between the novel and the film of the same title.
Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is a novel set in Paris, shortly after World War One. A film of the same title and based upon the book was released in 1957, and re-released in 2007. As is often the case when a popular or iconic book is made into a film, certain liberties are taken in the movie version which may cause the works to be radically different, but in this instance the book and the film share a plot and similar themes.
They are both set in the years after The Great War, when men and women are resuming their lives after their interruption due to the conflict. Both illustrate the hedonistic lifestyles of the characters, who drink heavily and regularly, and seem to work just enough to fund dinners out, drink and travel. Also, the two works share the themes of unattainable love and personal emotional pain, themes which are so important to the story that neither book nor film would be remarkable without them.
Themes of The Sun Also Rises
What makes the book and film strikingly different, however, is the manner in which each portrays its themes to the reader and viewer. Where Ernest Hemingway’s novel requires a reader to infer the unattainable nature of the love of the main male and female characters and the pain felt by many of the characters, director Henry King’s movie fairly spoon-feeds them to the viewer. This difference in styles is evident in a comparison between the way the film and books portray particular scenes and situations in the story.
A strong example of this dichotomy early in the story is how the subject of how the sexual impotence of Jake Barnes, the narrator and protagonist, is related in either work. In the book, the reader figures out through a number of indirect clues that Jake has a war injury that causes him not to function sexually. One is Jake’s description of the notoriety of his injury around the hospital in which he recuperates after he is evacuated. Jake reflects on the little speech given by a “liaison colonel” (p. 31) about his wound.
“You, a foreigner…have given more than your life…Che mala fortuna [what bad luck]!” (p.31).
This small implication that Jake’s injury is worse than death is a clue which, when compiled with others, signals the nature of Jake’s disfigurement. For example, this hint is added to a clue just prior, when he looks at himself in the mirror, naked, and muses, “of all the ways to be wounded” (p. 30).
In contrast, King bluntly, even clumsily, informs the viewer of the situation. Early in the film, he presents a flashback to Jake’s convalescence, during which he meets Lady Brett Ashley, played charismatically by Ava Gardner, with whom he falls (mutually) in love. Jake converses with a doctor, who hems and haws until he finally states directly that Jake will always be impotent (King, 2007). Film being a visual medium, this cannot be conveyed as subtly as Hemingway does it with his spare prose, and the treatment given the situation feels fairly ham-handed as a result when compared to the book.
Differences in themes
Another major difference in how themes are related is the means by which Hemingway and King tell the reader of Jake’s and Brett’s impossible love. In the book, we are introduced to Brett when she blows into a bar in which Jake is drinking with a friend. She is accompanied by a swarm of feminine men, and Jake describes that this angers him to the point he would like to fight one of them, just for being effeminate.
As a reader becomes more familiar with the doomed attraction between the two, it becomes sensible to think that the reason for his anger may be simply seeing Brett and being reminded of his pain in not being able to have her, in any sense of the word. It may also be that as Jake narrates the scene, he is overcompensating for his emasculation by implying that he so manly that he is disdainful of these men. Hemingway subtly indicates that Brett’s nearness makes him uncomfortable, and that he is self-conscious about his manliness.
The scene is handled somewhat differently by King. While the homosexual men are present in the film, it isn’t clear that Jake so much as notices them. It is apparent from his reaction to Brett’s entrance her presence and the magnetic effect she has on every man in the room immediately affects Jake. He quickly goes for his coat and escapes, followed by Brett.
While it is clear that Jake has strong feelings related to Brett, there is no opportunity for the viewer to see between the lines that Jake may feel insecure about his masculinity as exists in the novel, because what is being given directly to the viewer obscures more nuanced feelings Jake may have.
In another of many instances where the film gives directly what the book allows the reader to take, there is an important difference in the way a particular sequence is handled. After Brett has run off with a bullfighter some time later in the story, Jake, a friend named Bill, and Mike, Brett’s supposed fiancé, are sharing a somewhat hung over meal. The mood is somber without Brett’s presence.
She is present, though, in the minds of the men. There is an important difference between how Hemingway and King relate the depth of feeling Jake has for Brett in this scene, however.
In the novel, Jake says,
“[we] sat at the table, and it seemed as though about six people were missing” (p. 224).
This speaks not only to the size of Brett’s personality, but especially to the size of the hole in Jake’s existence caused by her absence. It further reminds us of the tragedy of the story. In the film, rather than being part of the narration by Jake, Mike says this line aloud. Besides taking away the opportunity for the viewer to infer Jake’s feelings, Mike’s delivery causes the meaning to change entirely.
It becomes Mike who is sorry Brett is gone, and even that is blunted by the fact that Errol Flynn’s Mike is such a souse that he might be relating that he isn’t seeing double as usual right at that moment. It is another example of the film clumsily relating what the novel allows the reader to figure out.
When this and other scenes are compared, the differences between the novel and the film are plain. Hemingway’s novel and King’s film share plot, themes and even characters. What makes the two works so remarkably dissimilar, however, is their separate methods for relating the main theme of the story. Hemingway allows the reader to sort out what things mean for him- or herself. King shows the viewer exactly what he wants him or her to think.
Interested in other books turned into movies? Check out our movie review of The Kite Runner.
Hemingway, E. (1954). The sun also rises. New York: Scribner.
King, H. (Director). (2007). The sun also rises. [Motion picture]. USA: 20th Century Fox Entertainment.