But it goes further than that. On the most fundamental level, the screenwriter can’t even say, “that plot turn happens that way because I decided to do it that way.” There is no “i” in “film”. There is only “we”. Eventually, you will have to justify and explain the meaning of every single choice, from character to setting to theme, not only to your artistic collaborators but to everyone putting any money into the project. The only way to justify your choices is to explain that your choice serves the story. The story is never allowed to serve your choice.
This creates a weird situation in which you have several artists all putting their fingers on the Ouija board and attempting to collectively divine what the story wants, without anyone seeming to push it in any particular direction. Because every decision has to justify itself to the movie’s theme, this results in movies being far more thematically “pure” than books. This is also one reason why movies having more collective meaning than books: because every decision the moviemakers made already had to have collective meaning to the team that made it.
You can read a book like “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, and when you get to the bizarre interlude about the wolves in Alaska, you can only conclude, “Okay, I guess Chabon got bored and decided to wake himself up.” Maybe you go along and enjoy it or maybe you don’t, but you don’t question Chabon’s right to shake things up. After all, it’s his novel. But in a movie this would be totally unacceptable to the audience. A movie doesn’t actually belong to the director or the screenwriter or any of the collaborators. It belongs to the audience.
And yet, you might think that this would result in an audience bonding more with a movie than with a book, but you’d be wrong. More on this when we return…