Ethan Frome - Contrast between film and novel


Many novels are being made into films nowadays, resulting in media exposure and perhaps an increased amount of readers for the novel. However, the film seldom shows the true essence of the book, and can result in a misleading view of the novel.
In the case of "Ethan Frome", the movie has sought to capture the haunting tragedy as it was portrayed in the novel by its author, Edith Wharton. The movie starts with the introduction of the equivalent of the novel?s narrator, now a pastor instead of an engineer. The reason for this change in roles is perhaps for the narrator to have a better reason for judging the people of Starkfield in the way they treat the Fromes. Otherwise, the audience might find the fact that a young engineer is judging the people a bit strange. However, the change results in a lot more dialogue and interaction between the narrator and the people in the town. This is different from the detachment the narrator has which is prevalent in the novel.
The movie adequately captures the bleak and dreary mood in the novel. The camera shows the Frome household in the middle of nowhere, with no houses nearby, in the middle of winter. This, with the addition of appropriate music, creates a bleak atmosphere, and there is no doubt in the audience?s mind of an impending sense of gloom and tragedy. The darkness of the house amongst the pure white of the snow is a symbol of the darkness within the house. It shows that the people living in the house, the Fromes, are not happy people. They have their burdens and a darkness in their lives that is further intensified by the joy of the people around them. The audience is perhaps more aware than readers of the book of the dreariness of the isolated town as they are shown visually, aspects of isolation and desertion that the reader would have to imagine in their own minds. The poverty of the Fromes is also evident as the Frome house is shown to be old and worn. Just as it is described in the novel, viewers are treated to a sight of Frome?s house as "one of those New England farm-houses that make the landscape lonelier".
The movie shows how Zeena took care of Ethan?s mother. It portrays the young Zeena as a capable young lady who is full of life and immensely polite to others. The viewers notice a blossoming romance between Zeena and Ethan, and Ethan frequently looked at Zeena affectionately before asking her to marry him. This is not evident in the novel, where Ethan was "seized by an unreasoning dread of being left alone", and married Zeena "before he knew what he was doing". Zeena is portrayed far more sympathetically in the movie. She is seen as a sickly woman, and it is not known till later that she is a hypochondriac. When Mattie first arrives, the viewer is struck by the youthfulness of the young lady, and compares her to sickly and scrawny Zeena. Similar to the description in the novel, Mattie is "a bit of hopeful young life that was like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth" and her face is "part of the sun?s red and of the pure glitter on the snow". It is evident in both the film and the novel that Ethan greatly admire this young girl who was inept at housework, and yet so cheerful that she brought a hint of life back into the dreary Frome household.
The role of Zeena was well acted out in the film. The actress seemed overbearing, and looked almost like something out of the supernatural world when she opened the door for Ethan and Mattie after the dancing scene. Her oppressive presence is often described in the novel, and it is emulated in the film through the use of lighting and somber music at the actress? appearance. However, whilst readers feel an intense dislike for Zeena, viewers are made to sympathize more than dislike her.
Whereas the affection that Mattie and Ethan had for each other was only hinted at in the novel, only surfacing when Ethan had to face the terrible prospect that Mattie was to leave, the movie leaves little to the viewer?s imagination. Ethan