Thursday, March 29, 2012

Movie Quotes and Book Quotes: How Do They Match Up?

This post originally appeared on Book Riot back in February. It didn't do as well as I hoped then, so I'm resurrecting it here. 

Plot-wise, it’s easy to tell when a movie deviates from the book on which it’s based. But is it as easy to spot when the screenwriter slightly tweaks a line of dialogue or narration from a novel? Here’s a look at five important, semi-famous, or memorable lines in movies compared to the same line in the novel.

1. Gone With the Wind
Movie line: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Book quote: “My dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Comments: This is the most well-known example of dialogue deviating from the book. I like the book version better — it’s clearer, starker, and more succinct. Frankly, “frankly” is redundant. This is the most important scene in the story, so of course, Rhett’s being frank.

2. Wonder Boys
Movie line: “She was a junkie for the printed word. Lucky for me, I manufactured her drug of choice. ”
Book quote: “…my lover was an addict, and I was a manufacturer of her particular drug of choice.”
Comments: Subtle difference here, but I like the movie line a lot better — delivered by Michael Douglas playing a novelist named Grady. There’s something about the phrase “junkie for the printed word” that is really descriptive and concrete — or at least much more so than just “addict.” This is my favorite quote in the movie, and while Michael Chabon conveys the idea admirably in the novel, the screenwriter took it took the next level.

3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Movie line: “I want you to help me catch a killer of women.”
Book quote: “I want you to help me identify a murderer.”
Comments: This is a turning point scene: the beginning of Mikael and Lisbeth’s collaboration. The line (delivered by Daniel Craig in the film) is how Mikael hopes to get Lisbeth to help him with the Vanger case. In the film, the screenwriter makes much more explicit the connection to Lisbeth’s hatred of those who prey on women. Therefore, it only takes a few words to reveal a ton about Lisbeth’s complicated character. So it’s a very good re-write for the movie.

4. The Shawshank Redemption
Movie line: “You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.”
Book quote: “You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. And that’s where I want to finish out my life, Red. In a warm place that has no memory.”
Comments: Unbeknownst to his friend Red, Andy Dufresne is wistfully talking about what he plans to do when he breaks out of jail. The line is about escape not just from jail, but also from his past and the horrific time he’s spent at Shawshank. This quote really cuts to the core of Andy’s character — and the screenwriter (thankfully!) left it mostly untouched (and it’s even possible that the difference is due to how Tim Robbins delivered the line, not how it was written in the script). Much of the more clever and/or meaningful dialogue (Hadley: “What is your major malfunction, you fat barrel of monkey spunk?”) in the movie is invented by the screenwriter, so I was heartened to see this line left largely unchanged from Stephen King’s novella.

5. The Descendants
Movie line: “My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawai’i, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation — we’re all just out here drinking mai tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they nuts? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up, our heart attacks and cancers less fatal, our grief less devastating? Hell, I haven’t been on a surfboard in fifteen years. For the last 23 days, I’ve been living in a ‘paradise’ of IVs and urine bags and endotracheal tubes and six-month-old US magazines. Paradise? Paradise can go fuck itself.”
Book quote: “The tropics make it difficult to mope. I bet in big cities you can walk down the street scowling and no one will ask you what’s wrong or encourage you to smile, but everyone here has the attitude that we’re lucky to live in Hawaii; paradise reigns supreme. I think paradise can go fuck itself.”
Comments: In both cases, I love how the writers (the novel is by Kaui Hart Hemmings) chose to dispel the false notion of paradise. The screenwriter’s is a little more clever and descriptive, and Clooney nails the delivery (given in narrated voice over). The screenwriter chose a little bit of a different angle to approach the topic of “Hawaiian unhappiness,” but Hemmings’ works just as well.
And both punctuate the notion with a guffaw-inducing finale. Well done, both!

So have you noticed any differences between movie lines and book quotes? I’d love to hear about them — please share them below.


  1. Every time I saw the trailer for Girl With,...that line just stuck me as over dramatic and I even said out loud once,"That's not what he says!" Maybe it's in how Craig delivers it.

    I'm going to watch the remake as soon as it's available on my Netflix list,so perhaps in the full context of the scene, it'll sound better.

    As to GWTW,true "frankly" is unnecessary but Clark Gable makes it work(also may have been a way to soften the impact of "Damn" for audiences not expecting that word and/or the censors of the day).

  2. I just saw Girl With the Dragon Tattoo last weekend, and that line struck me so much, I said something out loud, like perfect way to reel her in. Or something. Anyway, I like what you said about that one. I think the movie one is better, much more telling. Particularly since apparently the proper translation of the title is actually The Man Who Hated Women, I believe.

    Also agree with your first assessment, re GWTW. For Shawshank, although they're so close, I prefer the book quote. Better rhythm. I'm torn about the Descendants one. The movie quote works well, but it does sound more like a script than what might belong in a book. The quotes are perfect for their medium, I guess. Otherwise, after reading the book one, the movie one seems like too much info, or just overdone. I think I like the book one better the point is still very much there, in the last line especially, and it's cleaner.

    Hmmm, I can't think of any examples of my own offhand.

  3. One movie/book example that comes immediately to mind is Palahniuk's Fight Club. I was dismayed to find that I preferred many of the movie quotes to the written word. I suppose it's because I saw the movie multiple times before I ever read the book. Many times the changes are minute, such as "The things you own end up owning you" (movie) vs. "...and the things you used to own, now they own you" (book).

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