Mystic River and frank conversation

mysticmovie For the KCPL adult winter reading program, “Readers in the Rue Morgue,” we thought we’d offer a book and movie discussion event called Read It/Watch It. Participants would be invited to read the book before we screened the film and then contribute to the conversation after the viewing. Reading the work beforehand was not mandatory, but would certainly be helpful for attendees.

The obvious choice for us was Mystic River written by Dennis Lehane and the film version directed by Clint Eastwood. Both were critically acclaimed, thoughtful works that had much to offer for discussion.

Once the film was over viewers couldn’t wait to start talking about both movie and book. We got past the typical book vs. movie conversation (“that’s not how I pictured the character” and “the movie left out some parts of the book”) and started talking about how the director brought the characters and setting to life on the screen in the same way we talk about how the author does this on the page.

Viewers who had read the book noted that the author includes many details about the working class Boston neighborhood and the relationships between its inhabitants and looked for those same details in the film. One viewer pointed out that in the film, the long shots of the river served as transitions between scenes or mood, but wasn’t certain if the director meant for those scenes to be much more than that.

Another viewer said that close ups of actor’s faces are a waste of celluloid if the expression isn’t something that immediately jars the viewer. This viewer pointed specifically to Sean Penn’s scene as an anguished father first realizing his daughter is dead. This scene is emotionally wrenching, he said, and the overhead shot is interesting as it shows the viewer that we really can’t be a part of this father’s grief, we can only observe it.

Other viewers mentioned that the film adaptation lost some of the character development of the women that made them so intriguing in the book. One viewer pointed out the interesting contrast between the two women’s looks, a steely blonde and a fearful brunette and then mused that the two male leads had the same contrast. This lead to a discussion of how author description works with character when a director tries to translate it to the screen.

Viewers liked the opportunity to find further details in the written work after viewing the film and appreciated the director’s dedication to creating a film version every bit as discussable as the book.

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About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

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