Student Model Essay: Comparing a Novel and Film Adaptation

The Constant Gardener, novel by John LeCarre, compared to the movie adaptation by Francois Meireilles, Simon Channing-Williams, and Jeffrey Caine

The presentation of the characters

by Anne-Marie Cressin
English 302BN2 Dr Moody
July 28, 2007

The Constant Gardener is a realistic melodrama and above all love story between a foreign officer, Justin Quayle, in Kenya, and his young idealistic wife, Tessa, who is murdered because she dared to protest at the wrongdoings of greedy pharmaceutical companies. Justin is slowly metamorphosed by his quest to understand the truth, and becomes a different man, someone who understands idealists like his wife, during an investigation that will taken him to diverse parts of Kenya, England, Italy, Canada and finally back to Kenya.

In the movie, Justin (Ralph Fiennes) is filmed in contrast with Tessa (Rachel Weisz). He is always elegantly dressed, filmed in neutral colored interiors. His environnment appears lifeless and poorly animated. His body and facial expressions are often filmed in the corner of the scene, or at an angle. He does not talk much, does not seem to have much repartee to his wife's jokes. For example, when they find themsleves in bed together for the first time and Justin thanks Tessa for this "wonderful gift," Tessa mocks him and Justin does not really know what to do and lacks wordplay. Tessa is filmed in exteriors in the streets of Kibera, filled with children, adults and life. She wears relaxed and colorful outfits (except when she is in London). Often the camera makes close shots of her face, such as when she asks Justin to take her with him to Kenya. She represents youth and its inherent hope that the world can be a better place. She is willing to fight for it while Justin is mostly preoccupied (has retreated into) gardening.

In the movie, when Justin travels to Britain, we see him attempting to arrange Tessa's garden, but then he bursts into tears, we can then really sense his grief and pain. Back in Kenya, when Woodrow (Danny Huston) announced Tessa's death to Justin, Justin's reactions were intensely controlled. In the motion picture his language changes, he is less polite and even curses at Donohue (Donald Sumpter) for scaring him. People become more respectful of Justin, and realize he is no longer the apparently modest bureaucrat he once was. He shows he has determination and become proactive. At the end of the movie, when he is about to be killed in Lake Turkana, he first drives with Tess in his mind walking along in the car (as a revenant or ghost). She is not the juvenile playful girl-woman to him anymore, and he is not the half-absent older husband. They seem to be in complete harmony, synergy. Late on they are filmed sitting together on some rocks, while the killers are approaching. Their heads are at the same level, they look into each others eyes with love and hppiness at being ruined. This picture is ironic filmic tragedy.

In the novel, Justin works for the Foreign Office as it is a family tradition. Tessa chose to be a lawyer by conviction, and also because she believes in fighting the system from within, as he told her admiring friend, Ghita (Archie Panjabi). Justin goes to Kenya because he is told to do so. Tessa wants to to go Kenya because she wants that experience, and is willing to alter her life radically to do it. Again, they are different persons. She has a busy social ife, is friends with Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Rounde) and Ghita Pearson and Birgit (Anneke Kim Sarnua, who calls Tessa "reckless"). Tessa seems unaware of the risks she is taking, the danger she really is in. In London and Africa, Justin keeps aloof; he is austere, pessimistic and disillusioned and seemingly not aware of the dangers lurking around him, yet he is careful, stays within the system as a reformer, and does nothing to try to change the circumstances about him that cause his pessimism. He seems not to think about reform for real. He hesitates before marrying Tessa because he has not wanted this kind of involvement with women. It's revealing to look at the grief patterns: the people of the slums grieve because they have lost a practical friend; only later do his friends come to grieve deeply for him for his sake.

In the novel, when Justin is beaten up in Germany, he imagines Tessa helping him up and cleaning his wounds. In Lake Tukana, on the fishing boat, she is imagined present, full of life. He talks to her at each of his steps. He is at long last becoming deeply involved with her, and now in compensation and atonement becomes like her, methodic and using a computer, for example, on the Island of Elba when he goes through all her papers. She lived in the contemporary world through the internet; she was methodic: she brought two records during her interview of Lorbeer. The quasi father-daughter relationship is transformed. It comes spiritual as well as emotional and physical. They have reached the same inner place. Parallel realms in life and death. His will to join her is so strong, he wants to share this last of her secrets, and to do this wants to die too, and at the hands of those who killed her. The detective novel has become a gothic ghost story with metaphysical (what is this life worth? what is after death) as well as social questions (what kind of communities are these we see?).

In both the movie and the novel, Justin is first described almsot as an antagonist of Tessa, and he gradually changes and is put in a parallel with her, sharing the same journey and same destiny. We feel like all the hardship the couple has to go through to call attention to the illegal activities of ThreeBees and KVN produced little result. They both die and join the fate of dozens of other people, victims of Dypraza too. But again both the movie and the book give us some hope that the pharmaceutical companies may stop: in the movie, Ham (Richard McCabe), Tess's cousin, tells the grieving audience at Justin's funeral about the horrible trials and murders and in the movie and book calls on them (and us as readers) to realize they (and we) are not innocent, profiting from these companies and establishment. In the book, Porter Coleridge returns to England and attempts to change things. Ham hired a team of lawyers reputed for their pugnacity. It's not said if things are going to improve though. What this story does make clear is Justin's understanding of Tessa changed . He knows why she died, and so we.

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Page Last Updated: 6 August 2007.