Senin, 14 Juni 2010

The scene every screenwriter should adapt

The scene I'm talking about is from Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Now, I read the opening of the novel not really thinking about what it was actually telling me (it was in a hurry, as I was studying it the following day!). I managed to find a version online, so if you have an urge, you can probably read the whole thing here. But here's the scene I'm talking about, edited to get to the point:

Mr. Enfield and the lawyer were on the other side of the by-street; but when they came abreast of the entry, the former lifted up his cane and pointed.

"Did you ever remark that door?" he asked; and when his companion had replied in the affirmative. "It is connected in my mind," added he, "with a very odd story."

"Indeed?" said Mr. Utterson, with a slight change of voice, "and what was that?"

"Well, it was this way," returned Mr. Enfield: "I was coming home from some place at the end of the world, about three o'clock of a black winter morning, and my way lay through a part of town where there was literally nothing to be seen but lamps. Street after street and all the folks asleep--street after street, all lighted up as if for a procession and all as empty as a church-- till at last I got into that state of mind when a man listens and listens and begins to long for the sight of a policeman.
All at once, I saw two figures: one a little man who was stumping along eastward at a good walk, and the other a girl of maybe eight or ten who was running as hard as she was able down a cross street. Well, sir, the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner; and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child's body and left her screaming on the ground. It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see. It wasn't like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut. I gave a few halloa, took to my heels, collared my gentleman, and brought him back to where there was already quite a group about the screaming child. He was perfectly cool and made no resistance, but gave me one look, so ugly that it brought out the sweat on me like running. The people who had turned out were the girl's own family; and pretty soon, the doctor, for whom she had been sent put in his appearance. Well, the child was not much the worse, more frightened, according to the Sawbones; and there you might have supposed would be an end to it. But there was one curious circumstance. I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight. So had the child's family, which was only natural. But the doctor's case was what struck me. He was the usual cut and dry apothecary, of no particular age and colour, with a strong Edinburgh accent and about as emotional as a bagpipe. Well, sir, he was like the rest of us; every time he looked at my prisoner, I saw that Sawbones turn sick and white with desire to kill him. I knew what was in his mind, just as he knew what was in mine; and killing being out of the question, we did the next best. We told the man we could and would make such a scandal out of this as should make his name stink from one end of London to the other.

Now this might not seem like an amazingly interesting scene to adapt for screen, but I assure you it is. What is actually happening here? Obviously we're being introduced to the degenerate Mr Hyde. But what is happening? You can never say for certain, but ask yourself this:

What is Mr. Enfield (a resepcted member of the community) doing out on the streets at 3am? I think we can all guess....

What is a girl of "maybe eight or ten" doing out at 3am? Again, we can guess...

What is actually happening here:

the man trampled calmly over the child's body and left her screaming on the ground. It sounds nothing to hear, but it was hellish to see. It wasn't like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut.

Stevenson wouldn't have been published had he fully described what I (and most critics) assume is actually happening. The little figure of Mr Hyde doesn't just trample the young girl. He rapes and beats her! Is it really horrific to see a man bump into a girl and knock her over? No. But the alternative is!

So how would you adapt that scene for screen? Would you make it as brutal as you could? Or somply keep is as a retelling and show us nothng, letting the audience make up their own mind?

Personally, I'd go for all-out horror, pushing the cencors to the limit. But that's just me. The point is, there are many ways of adapting a scene, depending on a) how the adapter reads what is happening and b) how they want to show that scene on screen.

This scene is particularly important because it shapes our view of Mr Hyde from the off. In your version, is he a careless, grumpy little man who knocks people over and doesn't apologise? Or is he an evil, brutal child-rapist? The choice is yours.

Over and out.

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