Endings are important. They linger in your mind after you close the book or turn off the TV. They are what you take away. Because of this, they are often used to cement a message. Changing the ending therefore changes the entire story. It changes the tone, the point, the meaning. Few things outrage fans more than when a screen adaptation changes the ending of a novel for the sake of making it palatable for a more general audience. A friend’s recent complaint about the ending of the miniseries version of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy brought back some old thoughts about the movie versions of Blood and Chocolate, and The Queen of the Damned that I thought I would share with you all.
*Spoiler Alert* This post is about endings. So if you haven’t read/seen these three works and don’t want the ending spoiled, you may not want to read on.
Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I was struck by a lament over the changed ending of the BBC’s miniseries adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. My friend was angry at the choice to sacrifice the gravitas of the ending for the sake of the viewer’s emotional comfort. Apparently, while the novel ends with the deaths of a teenager and her younger brother, the screenwriter of the miniseries chose to end on a more “redemptive” note as she describes it in an interview with The Guardian. “What works in a novel doesn’t always work on screen,” she explains, saying that too grim of a story will turn viewers off. While that may be true in terms of marketing to a general audience, fans of the book are always a little heart-broken or angry when we find a work altered for the screen, even if we understand the reasoning behind it.
In The Casual Vacancy, none of the characters are likable. The plot is not uplifting. It’s like an entire town full of Dursleys at their worst, mired in small town politics and destructive habits. This grim picture does not let up throughout the novel, through to the end, with the death of sister and brother promising only more gloom for the generation to come. It is a testament to Rowling’s writing prowess that despite these deterrents, we are nonetheless utterly absorbed by the story. It is a rebellion against the notion that good works of fiction must have likable characters or a happy ending or conform to any such stereotypes about what kind of book will be successful. It is a dark, unattractive depiction of life in a small town. To change the ending obscures the message that a story can break all the rules and still be successful.
We feel the loss of the message of a valued work as a personal loss. We wonder, are the page and film really such different media that they cannot portray the same message? Was that change really necessary? In the interests of giving hope at the end of a very depressing work like The Casual Vacancy, the screenwriters may perhaps be forgiven. But for the other two works I will discuss, I see no good reason for changing the ending except to make the movie more ‘maintstream.’ But if the book was popular enough to warrant a movie version, perhaps that means the ending was perfect just the way it was.
Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Claus was one of my favorite werewolf romances when I was first getting into the genre. It features a strong young werewolf girl named Vivian, struggling to navigate a relationship with her human crush Aiden while pack politics pressure her to be with the new alpha wolf Gabriel. In the end, Vivian realizes that Aiden will never understand and love the animal side of her, but rather fears it. In fact, he tries to kill her because he can only see her as a murderous monster after she reveals her secret. She ends up with Gabriel, a man with whom she can be herself and revel in her wolfness. In the movie, however, she ends up with the human boy. The monster and the human magically overcome their differences through love just like in every other mainstream supernatural romance. Even though Aiden hurts her when she is a wolf, once he realizes it’s her, he’s super fine with her lupine alter ego and they end up killing Gabriel, who has been steam-rolled into a one-dimensional bad guy. This change totally defeats the point that to be happy in love, you must first accept who you are. If you’re a werewolf, embrace it; do werewolf-y things. And if somebody hates you and fears you for what you are, then they are not the kind of person you want to be in a relationship with.
In another ridiculous attempt to pair a human with a supernatural creature just to jump on the bandwagon, the movie of Anne Rice’s The Queen of the Damned ends with Lestat walking off into the sunset with the human girl, Jesse. I guess he turns her into a vampire first, but still. For anyone familiar with The Vampire Chronicles, this ending simply doesn’t make sense. In the book, Jesse and Lestat hardly interact let alone fall in love. Furthermore, Anne Rice’s vampires are somewhat transcendent. They exist outside of the realm of humans. They use them as distractions or play things, but if they really want to develop a relationship with them, they turn them into a vampire first, not after. The only exception is Lestat’s scholar friend Talbot, and that is what makes him such an important character. He is the only human that Lestat seems to be able to relate to as an equal. To humans, Lestat is like a god. He’s a rock star. To make him this lonely, wounded thing that college-age Jesse is equipped to handle brings him down and also minimizes how dangerous and destructive he actually is. Lestat was painted as a villain in the first installment of The Vampire Chronicles, but in the second two we see he is much more complicated than that. In any case, he’s hardly the type to go dating college girls and walking off into sunsets
I often wonder, if they wanted to make a happy movie or a movie where the monster ends up with a human, why didn’t they just write their own original screenplay? Or pick a different book? Why take an existing work of art and paint over it?
Do changed endings bother you too? Any particular works you want to rant about? Or do you have a different perspective? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!