I am talking not only about the Jostein Gaarder’s novel, but also about the film adaptation. After immersing myself in both, I realised something: I actually don’t care for Jan Olav’s love life.
For me, it is not about how ‘beautiful’ his romance with the orange girl was (it is less beautiful and more sickly sweet). It is about how his son Georg utilises the tale as a tool for contemplation.
Even though I have read only three of his novels, it is obvious that Jostein Gaarder’s specialty is philosophical fiction; the contemplativeness is expected. Therefore, it is not far-fetched to say romance is not the novel’s main focus. As much as some of you may dislike it, the mind of Georg the pretentious is the main focus.
While the pretentiousness can be off-putting, I actually think it is understandable. If you receive something similar to a sentimental letter from your long-deceased loved one, existential musing is inevitable. If you are a teenager, the musing would be inevitably unrefined.
Of course, it may seems I am excusing it, considering Gaarder’s other novels Sophie’s World and The Solitaire Mystery are not (as) pretentious; it shows he has the capability to write (relatively) well-rounded philosophical fictions.
But, here’s the thing: they have leverages.
Sophie’s World revolves around an interaction between a student and a teacher of philosophy; the presence of an authority figure may help the titular character to be more grounded. The Solitaire Mystery is not even explicitly philosophical; it prefers to express ideas through allegorical means.
The Orange Girl, on the other hand, is explicitly philosophical and none of the living adult characters serve as the main character’s “philosophical mentor”, leaving him “unsupervised” with his musings. So, not only the pretentiousness is hard to evade, it also makes perfect sense.
It is a reason why I can still re-read the book to this day despite everything.
Now about the film adaptation…
Just like many people, I am also disappointed when the adaptations of my favourite books liberally change the stories, especially when the changes do not improve them, if not worsen.
But, in this case, there are two changes which may seem trivial for some, but personally infuriating for me: the setting and Georg’s love interest.
Why does Georg have to go on a skiing trip? Why can’t he simply contemplate inside his bedroom?
Okay, this is not one of those ‘finding-yourself-while-travelling’ stories. The skiing trip only lasts for a few days and it ends before the climax.
But still, I despise the belief that you can only “find yourself” by leaving home. It ignores one crucial element of such experience: the genuine desire to learn. It does not matter if you have visited every country on earth; if you don’t have the desire, you would always be the same pathetic loser of a person.
And why the love interest? The point of the letter is to appreciate life as a whole! But, it seems the filmmakers believed otherwise. Maybe they idiotically mistook the novel as a romance one.
Either that or they thought protagonists must always had love interests.
In both changes, it is shallowness resulting in dumb changes.
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