Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Books into Screen: The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

The book that changes the way I see literature. My first love for Dumas. The most influential fiction I've ever read, right after Les Miserables. The picture of consequences in life, scepticism born out of injustice, darkest hue of human nature, in short, the sweet honey and bitter poison of reality. Yes, I'm talking about Dumas' masterpiece – The Count of Monte Cristo.

I was referring to the book; the film adaptation is blasphemy.

I can't imagine the worst possible way to destroy the whole beauty of The Count of Monte Cristo other than the way it has been adapted, changed, and ruined in this particular film. The reason that I have restrained myself so long before deciding to watch it at the first place is the duration. You can't condense Monte Cristo into two brief hours without butchering it. Comparison: the best adaptation of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, a novel in 200 something pages, is a mini series of 6 episodes. Monte Cristo is a big thick chunk you can use as a pillow. It covers the lives of so many people, each with his own story, his own past, his own choices, and his own end. It's a lesson of life and death, of happiness and sorrow, of courage and cowardice, of love and hatred, of loyalty and betrayal. It's not “just a love story”.

The film is just a love story.

It is so comically predictable. Sex scene of the unmarried couple in the beginning is quite a spoiler for the “whose-son-is-he” near the end. The picture of saintly woman trying to do the “right” thing is a stark contrast with Mercedes I'm familiar with. Instead of facing the fact that this woman was good enough waiting for 18 months before she married Fernand, without knowing whether Edmond was dead or alive, the film gives her 1 month only to mourn for her beloved thinking that he was dead – but with good excuse of being pregnant. Positive side, the count had an excellent opportunity to say “in a month you won't even remember my name”, and Fernand later on, had a privilege to say to his supposedly son, “Your mother was a whore in her youth as much as she is now.”

And the love story ends happily. The Count of Monte Cristo has a family by the time the film ends, the beautiful lady reunited with her true love, the young son has a brand new rich father, the rival is dead, and everything's perfect. Nobody cares that it makes Albert a bastard in a society that regards birth as something substantially important. Nobody cares that by revealing himself as Dantes before the law he puts himself under the law, and is punishable for breaking out of jail. It's a neverland after all.

Oh, and the other people. I'd forgotten. Were there any other people? I mean, people of importance? Where's Haidee, who opened the future for the Count? Where's Ali, the Nubian, who had been the Count's loyal slave and best friend? Max, every one, the boy for whom the Count had greatest affection? Where are the other dozen of people whose lives were improved, ruined, or ended by the Count's determination?

Another important aspect of Dumas' Monte Cristo is the elaborate plan he had made just to avenge himself. He didn't touch those people with his own hand. Like an angel of death, instead of shooting a man with a gun he shaped the circumstances leading to their own ruins. Certainly not by exposing his source of riches as a bait for mouse-trap-like ambush. Not his style. Goodness! How I want to rant about the way he found Haidee, the way he got Bertuccio, the way he set Andrea Calvacanti on the stage, the way he intercepted and modified the telegrams, the way he dried up Danglars' fortune! Those smart elaborate plan changed into a sword fight and two ambushes. What?!

Blasphemy as it is, I shouldn't trample upon it so mercilessly. There are good bits in it. My favourite being Albert's reaction to his kidnapping in the catacombs (although actually, because he's the Count's son it doesn't really matter any more. It's just further proof that good trees yield good fruit, bad trees don't have a chance to change).

But maybe the film was written for modern world. Premarital sex and adultery are presented as harmless and normal while in the setting of the story it's a great taboo and a bad reflection on the Count's merit as a gentleman. As for me, a gentle and honourable Edmond Dantes of the book is more preferable. Monte Cristo's speech in Albert's birthday fits perfectly into the moral of the film and the taste of revenge and hatred in the modern world. “Do your worst because I will do mine.” I'd rather choose his final message, a message of evidently a wiser man, “Wait and Hope.”

Wait and hope for a better adaptation in the future, perhaps? Who knows?


  1. Well, now I know never to watch the movie! Thanks for an excellent rant. I don't know that a really good adaptation could be made--the moral structure of the book, as you note, is completely foreign to modern Hollywood, and it would have to be a really long series (no mini about it!), which would cost a lot to do. I'd love to see a really good film version, though.

    1. I'd readily sign a petition for a good film interpretation. Anyway, it's still good to watch it, and complain about it to your heart's desire. :D

  2. Have you seen the adaptation with Jean Marais? I remember really liking it, and it's fairly close to the book. And Jean Marais is great, as usual :)

    1. No, it's the first adaptation of Monte Cristo I've ever watched. But I don't think I would be satisfied with any interpretation that unites Dantes and Mercedes in the end.