Sparknotes is the first suggestion in the search bar every time I type the letter “S.” It has piggy-backed me through almost every assigned reading. But “The Glass Castle,” a memoir by Jeannette Walls, made Socratic seminars and 20-point packets bearable. In fact, it may be one of the only assigned reading books I’ve ever read in its entirety (I’m sorry, Ms. Jackson).
“The Glass Castle” was a look into a homeless girl’s life, but it was nothing like the homelessness I’ve witnessed on the corner of Ward Parkway and JC Nichols. Walls was the kid you pass on the way to seminar that you wouldn’t know went to bed hungry. She was the girl who just lent you a pencil, the girl you’d never know had slept in her car the night before. The novel’s authenticity fascinated me.
So you can imagine my disappointment as I sat in the fourth row of AMC theaters watching it’s cinematic reproduction and realizing it was nothing like the book – in the worst way possible. I’ve seen bad movie adaptations based on novels, but I was especially disappointed by this one. Some of the most sincere moments of the book had been completely overlooked in the movie, like how each child consecutively left the life of poverty behind for a new beginning in New York City.
My expectations for the movie were at an all time high, as some of my favorite actors – from Woody Harrelson to Naomi Watts – starred in the film. Watts couldn’t have played Rosemary Walls, the mother, any better. However, the way director Destin Daniel Cretton depicted her didn’t show Rosemary’s true character. In the film, she was portrayed as a concerned mother who would comfort her children after their father, Rex’s, drunk outbursts. But in the novel, Rosemary never takes action after her children are sexually assaulted numerous times.
In the book, Rosemary Walls’ unmotherly behavior almost showed signs of mental illness. Her unrealistic hope of becoming a world-famous artist was put before the well- being of her children. When Jeanette comes to her mom begging for money to buy food, she brushes off Jeanette’s hunger like it’s of little importance. But in the movie, she was never shown refusing her children’s requests for food, an example of Cretton barely scratching the surface of her personality. This gives a false sense of sympathy for Rosemary, when in my opinion, she is far from deserving of any pity.
Not only was Rosemary totally misrepresented, but Rex – father and head of the Walls family – was shown in a more positive light than he deserved. In the novel, when there was money for food, Rex would spend it on Parliaments and the “hard stuff.”
However, in the memoir, Rex’s persuasive manner was depicted well. He was so influential on the family that he convinced Jeanette repeatedly to hand over what little money she had to feed his alcohol addiction.
And while his persuasive ways were touched on, they were overwhelmingly downplayed in the film. He was a greedy alcoholic who often put himself before his kids: when Jeanette narrowly missed being burned alive in the novel, Rex stole her out of the doctors’ care to avoid bills. On screen, the scene in which Rex, Woody Harrelson, takes Jeanette, Ella Anderson, out of the hospital is set to adventurous and upbeat music. Not exactly the theme that I gathered from forcibly removing your child from health care.
The hardships Rex put his children through, like hitting Jeanette and drinking himself so far into oblivion that he ruined Christmas, were underexaggerated in the film. Cretton portrayed him as a fun-loving, adventurous dad, with a bit of a drinking problem on the side.
These small details that weren’t carried over into the movie lessened the severity of their struggles. In the book, Jeannette and her brother dig through dumpsters to find food because Rosemary was too busy painting – a scene that showed exactly where her priorities were. But this scene was completely left out in this movie. One of the most prominent examples of her selfishness was when the kids hadn’t eaten for days, and Rosemary had been scavenging family-sized chocolate bars for herself. This moment that showed Rosemary’s egocentricity was also skipped over in the movie. Or the fact that the movie never displayed Rosemary’s teaching job, or lack thereof. It’s like committing a crime and getting away without a scratch. She shouldn’t be represented as a caring mother when she let her children go hungry while sitting on almost one million dollars worth of inheritance.
Key events were left out in the new movie, Cretton added new too. The movie transitioned back and forth between her childhood, and the period of time during her engagement. One minute, a freckled-faced Jeanette was feeding her little sister butter because there was nothing else to eat. Quick transition, and Jeanette is sitting across from her polished and functional fiancé in a mod, upscale apartment. In a climatic ending scene, Jeanette makes a scene at her engagement party, confronting her parents for everything they put her through. It tugged on my heart strings, and had the whole theater silent.
Beggars can’t be choosers but, it just wasn’t in the book.
So, a word of advice to future sophomores: read the book. Seriously. It wasn’t bad, and not only will you miss out on an actually decent summer reading assignment, you’ll be screwed for Socratic seminars. Cretton, I’m not impressed. Even though a movie can give the gist of a novel in about two hours, I promise setting aside time to read the Walls’ story will feel like time is going by just as fast.