Reading vs. watching

I recently read The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre, after having watched the movie adaptation (starring Ralph Fiennes) some time ago. It’s true that once you’ve watched the movie, you aren’t really reading the book anymore; you’re just reliving the movie in your head. So at every turn I had to see Fiennes’s elegantly poised grief instead of picturing Justin Quayle’s mourning for myself. The creative direction, so to speak, had been taken away from me. At each turn I was anticipating what I already knew was going to happen and comparing the text to the movie, if I did remember it. It took a while for me to recall the scene where Quayle is hooded and beaten up by hired thugs when he returns to his hotel room, while traveling in search of his late wife’s informants. So there was a queer moment when I was already reading with my eyes a paragraph or two into that particular scene before the mental image of it formed (or was recalled) in my head. Only at that point did the plot line and the description of violence make an impression on me. The experience wasn’t very satisfying, and so I’ve decided to forbear from watching other movie adaptations of books that I might want to read: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example.

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