The novel On Chesil Beach is about the newlyweds, Edward and Florence, having issues related to sexual freedom and societal pressure on their honeymoon, which eventually leads to divorce. In terms of the adaptation of this novel to a movie, the most difficult part will be the nonlinear narrative in the novel because the storytelling is out of chronological order. The story begins with the couple’s wedding night after they arrive at a hotel at Chesil Beach. There are narratives of their honeymoon interspersed with flashbacks and information of their past experience. For example, in the first chapter there is description of Florence’s confusion about sex. She cannot turn to her mother or sister for help and she hates discussing intimate issues with her friends. “There was no one she could have talked to. Ruth, her sister, was too young, and her mother, perfectly wonderful in her way, was to intellectual, too brittle, an old-fashioned bluestocking” (McEwan, p. 11). This personal experience seems very natural and essential to present the personality of Florence during her inner struggle on her wedding day. However, it will be a challenge to make connections between Florence’s experience in the past and her consciousness at the moment in a movie.
In the novel, the characters’ thoughts are flowing from one direction to another with no particular reason. The randomness of thoughts is line with their casual, aimless behavior. The flow of thoughts is arranged carefully between characters’ conversation, observation, movement as well as the description of natural environment. The transition between now and then seems natural because there is a causal link between past experience and present conflicts. The underlying logic is what happens in the past contributes to what is happening now. The historical background is intertwined with the characters’ personal life. For instance, political inclination especially opinions about the Soviet Union is used to represent one of the conflicts between Florence and her mother. Florence is inclined to believe in the merits of the Soviet Union while her mother thinks that “the Soviet Union was a cynical tyranny, a cruel and heartless state, responsible for genocide on a scale for a vast, barely understood network of political prison camps” (McEwan, p. 43), which reflects the different political views of new and old generations. The narrative voice reveals the intangible internals of characters and shapes the personality of a character in a more comprehensive way, which helps increase readers’ empathy for and intimacy with a character.
Basically, the movie adopts the narrative order from the original novel, inserting flashbacks of their earlier days during the wedding night. Although the goal of flashbacks is to provide background information and rationalize the conflicts of the wedding night, too many fragmented flashbacks cause disturbance and stop the story moving forward. The intense awkwardness of the wedding night is greatly reduced by backstory in the flashback sequences. Different from a novel with flexible timeline, a movie should focus more on the consistency of visual presentation and the improvement of emotional connection with the audience. Some backstory can be removed to the beginning of the story to inform audiences more of the historical period as well as family background of two characters. Another reason the movie disappoints me is that the ending of the movie is quite intentional to achieve emotional climax while the life of Edward and Florence after their separation is lacking in details, which leads to confusion about the ending. Overall all, the narrative in the movie is not as enticing as that in the novel and flashbacks upset the rhythm of the movie to a certain extent.
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