We watched part of the film version of the novel, The Namesake, in class today and the scene where Ashima learns of her husband’s death over the phone launched me into thinking about the ways that the two media communicate so differently, and perhaps that is fundamentally why the experience of a novel, cannot be replicated in the experience of a film.
Ashima untangles her sari from the twisted phone cord while speaking with Ashoke regarding his stomach ache.
Seconds later, she is repeating her name to a disembodied voice, non-diegetic sound, provides the anchor for meaning in the film, where the novel does not; her visible, and audible frustration over her name is palpable. The texture brought by sound to film cannot be replicated in a novel.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Words have a music all their own, and the musicality in the voice of Daisy Buchanan is emblematic of Fitzgerald’s genius; he brings mood, atmosphere, and the music of the Jazz age to his novel, The Great Gatsby.
Yet, the stretched out emotional impact that film can bring is played out in the next scene. A series of angled shots, some high, some low, follow Ashima who moves wordlessly around the house turning on all the lights, opens the garage door, and walks…barefoot…out into the night crumbling before the front of the house and finally releasing a desperate cry.
To think that a film can replicate a novel is to miss the method of communication, the mode. Reading film is vastly different from reading a novel. Both have their own unique ability to convey emotion, to capture the essence of the human experience.
Reading each medium requires thinking about the constructed representation of the human experience and thinking critically about how it creates meaning.