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Simon Birch Essay, Research Paper
?I?m going to be a hero.?
?Pretty vague job description, isn?t it??
These lines of dialogue are a spoken between the lead character, Simon Birch, and Ben Goodrich, who is played by Oliver Platt. This proclamation sums up the driving force behind Simon?s actions. His quest to be a hero is Simon Birch?s ?maguffin?. It is the thing that drives him forward through the film. Throughout the film he is constantly in search of a sign from god that will tell him when the time has come for him to be a hero.
This most recent adaptation of a John Irving novel, ?A Prayer for Owen Meany?, is filmmaker Mark Johnson?s Simon Birch. What needs to be understood by the viewer is that the movie is an adaptation and not the book. Reviewers repeatedly said that the movie was not like the book and the reason for that is it is not the book. This seems to be something that critics lost sight of, the movie was judged against the book and not for its artistic merit.
Although the film ??premiered to cheers from the audience??(17.), most critics seem to agree that there was no justice done to the Irving novel. Variety said that Simon Birch yet again showed that, ?capturing Irving?s mercurial tonal shifts in another medium is not so easy.? The article goes on to point out that ?Irving himself demanded a character (and hence title) name change. As well as ?suggested by? rather than ?based on? credit? (13.).
Irving is quoted as saying, ?The story is significantly different from my novel and it would be unfair to my readers to mislead them to think they?ll see ?A Prayer for Owen Meany?. It?s not ?A Prayer for Owen Meany?, but I liked it. And I?m happy with the way I was treated? (13.). This quote leads you to believe that Irving approved of the film, but his insistence on a name change and it having to be referred to as ?suggested by?, rather than ?based on? shows just how dissatisfied he was with the adaptation. A writer for The Washington Post states that the movie?s ?emotional payday is stolen, not earned, in the Disneyfied, dumbed down adaptation of John Irving?s ?A Prayer for Owen Meany? by writer director Mark Steven Johnson? (18.).
Ian Michael Smith, an 11 year old with Morquio Syndrome, plays the film?s title character (7.). Simon is a Christ-like figure who, as the movie?s tag line suggests, destiny has big plans for. Knowing he is living on borrowed time Simon tries to make the most of his time. He does this by looking for signs from God that will help him fulfill the destiny he knows is waiting for him.
Joe Wenteworth is Simon?s best friend, and on one level the film involves the friendship of the two boys. With both of them being considered outcasts in their small town they, of course, find each other and form a strong friendship. ?The destinies of the two boys are linked as both seek to find what?s missing in their lives: Joe wants to find the identity of his father and Simon wants to find the special purpose for his life, since doctors proclaimed his birth a miracle? (10.). Throughout the course of the movie the boys uncover the answers to all of their questions.
Joe?s mother, played by Ashley Judd, is suddenly killed as a result of being struck in the head with a baseball. Oddly enough hit the ball that delivered the fatal blow was hit by Simon. Though saddened by the tragedy Simon claims that he cannot help that he is an instrument of God.
In addition to Simon being a Christ-like figure the story is filled with examples of symbolism. Examples of this are the two deer that are seen by Joe after the untimely deaths of the two most important people in his life, his mother and Simon. Shortly after the death of his mother, Joe spots what looks to be a mother deer grazing in the woods. The way the scene is shot suggests that Joe realizes what the deer represents, his mother, and this enables him to begin to cope with the death of his mother.
The second deer, one of very small stature, appears before him in the same manner shortly after Simon?s death. Both scenes are shot using a wide-angle view. This point of view allows the Joe?s feelings of finally being able to come to terms with the experiences by letting him know that no matter what those whom he loved and have since passed on will always be with him. It is exactly this type of obvious sentimentality that provoked a reviewer from The Washington Post to write:
Okay, I admit it. The blubbering idiot in the front row at a recent screening of Simon Birch was me. No I didn?t have something in my eye, and my allergies were not acting up that day. I was sobbing and bobbing like a baby in the back seat of a car-jacked sport utility vehicle on a rocky mountain road. And I was growing increasingly resentful with every maudlin, manipulative minute of it (18.). Also symbolic in the movie was Simon?s red sport coat. It was this red sport coat that caused him to stand out and causes him to stand out more than he already does. The first scene in which Simon dons the jacket takes place in church. The rest of the parish is dressed in colors that are dull in comparison to the bright red. In the scene there is a public exchange between Simon and Reverend Russell, and the red jacket only aides in establishing Simon as different from everyone else. The jacket is then seen in the scene in which Ms. Wenteworth, Joe?s mother, is being buried. Although set off in the background and blurred, his red jacket is spotted and can be immediately identified as belonging to Simon.
Faith is a theme that runs throughout this movie. Constantly the characters faith is tried and tested. They endure many emotional tests on their faith that they repeatedly pass. In the beginning of the movie an older Joe Wenteworth explains to the audience that he owes his faith to Simon Birch and this is explained throughout the course of the movie. It is evident within the exchanges between the boys, and those between Simon and everyone he interacts with, that he is wise beyond his years. The conversations are profound and this is owed to the fact that what he says has strong roots in his faith.
Simon Birch, in the same fashion as Citizen Kane, used a deep focus style of shooting, in certain scenes. When Johnson employed the deep focus, the characters were dwarfed by their environment. Johnson?s motives, however, were quite different from those of Orson Welles. The reasoning behind this type of shot was to suggest to the audience just how small we all are in the world. That like Simon we all have a purpose and things happen for a reason. Images shot in deep focus showed a character after an important point in the movie, or against a larger than life shot of the church, forest or horizon.
Another dramatic effect applied to the film was the use of slow motion. This effect was used twice during the course of the movie. The employment of this technique took place in the two critical scenes within the film. The first time we see the use of slow motion is at the baseball game where Ms. Wenteworth?s life is cut unexpectedly short. Not only is the scene shown in slow motion, but there is no volume except for the sound of the impact of the ball and the bat falling to the ground, and then suddenly, as if a dream, the sound comes swirling back in a mass of chaos.
Slow motion is used a second time when the bus has sped out of control down an embankment and into a lake. In slow motion, from Simon?s perspective we see the children panicking and Joe yelling frantically. The film then cuts to a shot of Simon. Then Simon takes a deep breath speaks to the children on the bus commanding their attention and respect.
Personally I feel that this use of slow motion was a good choice, an almost obvious choice. This obviousness, however, does not seem to appeal to all critics. It is this obvious choice that Dennis Harvey, from Variety, adds to his list of complaints about the movie (94).
Critics seems to agree that the movie did no justice to the book and was nothing like it, they neglect to take into consideration that for those who have never read the novel the movie seems very well made and a good choice. A writer for the Christian Century writes that if this movie sends a new generation in search of ?A Prayer for Owen Meany? then he is all for it. The opinion is pretty much unanimous, throughout the reviews, that the book was extremely well written, but not so much in favor of the movie.
Although the majority of reviewers stated their dislike for the movie, there were those who wrote reviews commenting on how much they enjoyed Simon Birch. These pleasing reviews mostly appeared in magazines like Cosmopolitan, People Weekly, and other magazines along the same line.
It would seem though that those who reviewed the movie positively had either not read the book, or took into consideration that the movie was not the book, but rather an adaptation. Whether or not you enjoyed the movie seems to rely a lot on if you had read ? A Prayer for Owen Meany.? Unfortunately critics do not seem able to get passed discrepancies between the John Irving novel and the film, and by letting this affect their view of the movie so much they miss out on a truly good movie.
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