Falling Flat:Loss of Detail through Adaptation in The Perks of Being a WallflowerYoung-adult fiction classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a coming-of-age novel by Stephen Chbosky, was recently adapted into a screenplay. Although the film was commercially successful, it diverged significantly from the original text. These differences limit the viewer’s knowledge of Charlie and in so doing, make the narrative less meaningful. It is clear that the most significant alterations are the change from the epistolary form of the novel, marked by an unreliable narrator, to the omniscient style of the movie, as well as the censorship of key scenes. These changes may have improved the film’s narrative pacing, but they eliminated important detail from the novel’s portrayal of the less photogenic aspects of teen life, such as mental illness.In the novel, all information comes in the form of correspondence from Charlie (Chbosky 2-3).
The intimacy of letters gives the book a quirky and vulnerable tone, starkly different from the movie’s reliance on coming-of-age film tropes. Personal letters also allow the reader to question the accuracy of Charlie’s letters, especially with traumatic events, like the death of his aunt. In contrast, the conventional style of the film leaves little unknown, depriving the reader of Charlie’s intimate thoughts.
The change in medium also eliminates foreshadowing, such as the suicide of Charlie’s friend in order to save time. This loss of detail strips the movie of its emotional value.The novel has been controversial because of some of the explicit content it contains (Finan).
Some important scenes could not be included in the movie because of the standards set by the Motion Picture Association of America (“Classification and Rating Rules”). These standards disallow showing in PG-13 rated films the very behavior which the book took risks in portraying. One particularly important scene to have been removed is from the party where Charlie witnesses sexual assault (30-31). This scene was too graphic to be included in the movie and was eliminated entirely. This left a large portion of the story missing as it was an important tool to raise the readers awareness of abuse and valuable clue about Charlie’s own issues.
The movie contained various additional scenes that weren’t in the novel. Two that stood out to me were Charlie helping Sam study to get into college, and Charlie’s English teacher saying “We accept the love we think we deserve.” (Chbosky 36; screenplay) These changes further the connection between Charlie and his sister and help us understand her nonchalant attitude towards abuse. The central question is, however, were these additions more important than the scenes the movie cut? Events like Sam’s desire to go to Penn State were interesting, but not essential to the main plot.The novel at times suffered from coming across as trite and reliant on cliches of adolescent self-discovery; for example, in its depiction of the “I feel infinite” scene on pages 32-33, although its portrayal of mental health was textured and strong. The movie took these cliches and emphasized them, further shifting focus from the challenges of mental illness to stereotypical hijinx in the form of John Hughes films. In the film, the novel’s moment of insight was overpowered by a drive to sell tickets, robbing the novel of its strengths and amplifying its weaknesses.