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Sin Or Saint Essay, Research Paper

Sin or Saint

“The Scarlet Letter” is a highly sexual movie remake of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel. Starring Demi Moore as Hester Prynne, Gary Oldman as Arthur Dimmesdale and Robert Duvall as Roger Chillingworth. The movie is in a league of it’s own and that’s not really a compliment. Literary purists should be aghast at some of the liberties taken with the original text, but the complaints have more to do with cinematic misjudgments and drastic change in plot than those in the book-to-screen translation.

First and foremost the movie opens considerably in advance of the novel’s first scene, and the script by Douglas Day Stewart delves deeply into early events only hinted in Hawthornes tale. Though much of this background, despite being speculative, works, although it takes forever for the romance between Hester and Dimmesdale to get off the ground. This is because of Hesters circumstances. Hester comes to the Puritan stronghold at the Massachusetts Bay Colony to escape religious persecution in England. Her husband Roger has sent her ahead to set up house. Already the good folk are scandalized by her intention to live alone until her husband arrives. Hester meets Dimmesdale, who she has already seen, covertly, swimming like a glorious serpent in a woodland waterfall. Combustion is immediate and she finds herself completely indured by the fiery young minister. Hesters persistence, knowledge and beauty also draw Dimmesdale. Although they scrupulously avoid each other to put off what nature has inexorably in store for them, when word arrives that her husband’s ship has been attacked by Indians, no survivors, she flings herself into the lusty reverend’s arms. This is when they conceal their love for each other. Later the Puritan colonists of the 17th century Boston discover that Hester, the wife of the absent doctor, is pregnant by a man whose name she refuses to yield, she is thrown into prison until her child is born. This is around where Hawthorne starts his novel, when Hester is about to leave the prison to receive her punishment. “When the young woman— the mother of this child— stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom”(50). This introduction leaves you wondering unlike the movie. You know that adultery has been committed but the father of the child is still unknown. The narrator manages to weave many verbal ironies around the identity of Dimmesdale. But you soon realize that the truth is tainted with infernal spite. The movie lacks this uncertainty.

In both the novel and the movie you are introduced to the character of Roger Chillingworth, who’s way of revenge is different and not as powerful in the movie. In the movie Roger Chillingworth goes to town portraying a man who was kidnapped by the Indians, and took to their ways with alarming enthusiasm. In fact, he becomes a little too spiritual for the Tribe’s taste, and when Roger starts dancing around the fire with a dead deer on his back, his captors hastily send him back to his own people. At this point, Roger has flipped out and is totally insane that the Indians are scared of him. Upon his release, Roger heads for the New England colony and finds Hester with her illegitimate child and plots a twisted revenge. One that culminates into a Indian massacre. He prowls around in the night killing off innocent people so that he might blame witches and friendly Indians for the incidents. This form of revenge is used to capture an audience but does not have the sense of meaning the book has. Which uses the internal infliction of torture through the mind. Chillingworth’s motives in the book are evil in intent, but the effect his methods have on the religious motives of Dimmesdale shows what happens when the easy crutch of emotionalism and superstition is put to logical analysis. “This diabolical agent had the Divine permission, for a season, to borrow into the clergyman’s intimacy, and plot against his soul”(118). This form of revenge is much stronger and is an important part of the book, which is not present in the movie. This in depth description of how powerful the mind is makes you doubt the outcome that is very effective.

The weakest part of the script is the ending. Aside from straying significantly from that of the book, the final part turns this rather lugubrious melodrama into an action film. The book ends in a way that is literally preposterous, but is simultaneously sad enough to become tragic and satirical. It ends with poor Dimmesdale confessing his sin, crying out “His will be done! Farewell!”(233) and dying. It is obviously not acceptable for Dimmesdale to believe he has sinned, and so the movie cleverly transforms his big speech into a stirring cry for sexual freedom and religious tolerance. Instead of dying of a guilty seizure, the main point of the book, he snatches the noose from Hester’s neck and pulls it around his own, only to be saved when the Indians attack, driving a burning cart through the village. Ending with Hester, Pearl and Dimmesdale riding away in the sunset. The film has a happy, Hollywood-style ending. And the message of the movie is very clear. “Who is to judge what is a sin in God’s eyes?” which are the final words of the film. Hawthornes novel does not portray that message at all but rather that evil or beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. So if the movie wanted to change the book’s message it should have created an original piece of work.

The movie removed the character’s sense of guilt, and therefore the story’s drama. Instead of being a symbolism-laden parable about hypocrisy and set morals, it decides to become a condemnation of Puritan lifestyles, sending out the wrong message. Hollywood tried to take this troublesome old novel and make it cinematic but many misjudgments came forth. It probably would have been a more effective movie if it had remand an original piece.


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