Can a Film Ever Live Up to a Book? A Look at Everything Everything

Can a Film Ever Live Up to a Book? A Look at Everything Everything

During my first screenwriting class at Boston University, I was asked to name a few of my favorite movies. While reciting them to the class, I realized they were all adapted from books. Now, this embarrassed me because everyone compares films to the books they are based on, and the books always win out as the favorite. But throughout the year I learned the inability to compare the two mediums because they require different sets of skills to tell stories and the movie Everything Everything provides the perfect lens to show this through. Let’s break it down:

A few weeks ago I saw the movie Everything Everything, based off the book with the same title by Nicola Yoon. It tells the story of a young woman, Maddy, who has a compromised immune system and therefore cannot leave her house. The only ones allowed in her home are her nurse and her mother. When she realizes an attractive teen, Olly, moved in next door, they start communicating and flirting and falling for each other. Due to her illness, this romance can not blossom within the same building and because of that the struggle between screen and page is very apparent. It is easy to portray thoughts and feelings within a book because the audience literally reads the thoughts of the characters. Also, having a conversation over text is easier to show in a book than in a movie because it’s already a text-based medium, whereas a movie is a visual medium. Many teen movies choose to show text bubbles on the screen, but Everything Everything does something much more refreshing and creative.

Throughout the movie, whenever Maddy and Olly have an important conversation over text, the location would abruptly change, sometimes to a diner, other times to a library, where the text exchange is depicted as an actual face to face conversation. The landscape of each one of these locations is realistic while maintaining a dream-like existence so that the viewer knows this isn’t actually how the conversation is occurring. Each location is also used to signal the stage of their relationship.

everything everything dinerCan a Film Ever Live Up to a Book? A Look at Everything Everything

The first time this occurs, they sit at a table in a diner, a location that very much screams first date due to it’s casual, yet intimate nature. This is where they learn about each other and start to build their relationship. The diner has a pop of aquamarine, a color that alludes to Maddy’s dream location, the ocean, thus triggering a feeling of fantasy within the audience and causing them to wonder how many times Maddy visits this diner to escape her reality. It definitely feels like her turf instead of the Olly’s turf, which causes the audience to feel that she is inviting him into her world, a place I’m sure very few people have had the privilege to experience.

Can a Film Ever Live Up to a Book? A Look at Everything Everything

The second location they meet is in a library, a location known for it’s information/ wealth of knowledge. The obvious reference here is that they are deep into their relationship, learning as much as possible about each other, maybe even enough to fill a library, but keep in mind that this is a time when they are fighting and second guessing the relationship. Maddy is running away from Olly while he’s trying to figure her out. So maybe the less obvious reference here is the fact that she to him is a closed book, as she plays her emotions close to her chest so that she doesn’t let her heart overshadow her mind. It is a tumultuous time and she wants logic to be the ruling factor here.

The third location is the most obvious, the most abstract, but also the most symbolic. When the world comes crumbling down and Maddy is left to deal with the ruins, her break-up conversation takes place in space. There’s nothing more on the nose than asking someone for space while imagining you’re talking to someone in space. It is extremely cheesy, but it’s her imagination and space is referenced multiple times throughout the film, so we know it’s something she often day-dreams about. An astronaut character repeatedly shows up in Maddy’s dream lands and is referenced at the beginning of the film when she’s playing with her architecture diagrams. Though they provide comic relief for most of the film, they seem to represent the idea of exploration in a confined space. They never take off their space suit, because they may die if they do. But they are also on their own kind of adventure, experiencing the world from afar, just like Maddy. At this moment, she solidifies herself as the trapped astronaut, signifying she’s no longer just trapped in real life, but in her dream lands as well.    

All of this symbolism derives from the creativity that the filmmakers have to tap into in order to depict texting. This particular cinematographic challenge depicts how books and films are so incredibly different, even if they are based on the same story. The two different mediums cannot be compared because the way they tell stories is so different. What a book tells you, a film has to show you and that can get a bit tricky. Everything Everything did a great job of developing a creative solution to depict a relationship that takes place in two different worlds, even if it became a bit corny at times. To me, it generally feels lazy to depict texts or some kind of social media post via a blurb on the screen, so using the texts to draw the audience in to Maddy’s dream land was a great way to teach us about her, her relationship, and what she is truly feeling all while overcoming the hurdle of a text-heavy story.  

2 comments on “Can a Film Ever Live Up to a Book? A Look at Everything Everything

  1. I absolutely agree with separating movies and films in the way you do – they’re entirely different mediums, so to judge them by the same methods just doesn’t make sense. But then again, I also studied film, so maybe it’s something you pick up in class!
    (Oh and now I need to read the book AND watch this film!)

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  2. Think that you made many solid points. Many times the film becomes a different version unto itself and takes on a life of its own — sometimes just standing apart from the original book or books. This happened a lot with theater/plays as well. “Aunty Mame” is a good example of book/play/memorable film. Think some contemporary authors especially with the recent dystopian y/a series and film adaptations these authors set down outlines and later are working as producers it seems to make a new version of the story for their films/movies via collaborations with other authors/screenwriters. Sometimes though there are some adaptations of books, that are really not very well done, and that can be painful, especially if you are a reader that was attached to that particular book–sort of envisioned the characters a certain way, etc.

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