Sometimes a trailer comes along that is so revolting that you can actually hear an involuntary hiss start to rise from the audience. The audience is suddenly united into one seething mass of contempt, every single time the trailer airs. One such trailer was for Ryan Murphy’s Eat Pray Love. Let’s watch it, shall we?
Is your gorge rising? Our heroine ditches her husband for a boytoy, feels depressed about it, decides she needs a year of “me time”, spends months eating at all the best kitchens in Italy and bragging about how enlightening it is, then chills out with a guru in India, then, all tuckered out, hits an Indonesian tourist resort, where she finally finds sexual fulfillment with Javier Bardem.
Obviously it’s no surprise that the movie was a mega-flop, but the real shocker is that the story originally appeared as a memoir which became a runaway best-seller. How could this be? How could anyone ever identify with this supremely smug jet-setting dilettante?
The answer is that all behavior looks worse onscreen. When you read a book written from a first-person perspective, you’re not looking at the person doing these things, you’re looking out at the world through her eyes. All that you perceive of this world is whatever she perceives, which means also that you miss everything she misses. Your perspective is her perspective, for good or ill.
But all movies are told from a third person perspective. The audience, represented by the cameraman, is that invisible third person looking at our heroine objectively. No matter how much voiceover gets ladled on, we’re never going to be totally inside Julia Roberts’s head. We’ll always be outside, seeing her character as she really is.
In a book, King can wallow in the horror of the chop, then quickly shift our focus to other details, such as the Paul’s re-doubled urge to escape. But in the movie, Reiner knew that the audience would never get over it. We’d just keep staring at that awful stump, wondering how the poor wretch could even find the will to go on. It would stop feeling like a thriller and start feeling like a tragedy.
It was the right call. The sledgehammer scene was plenty brutal in the theater, trust me. It was just about the max an audience could take and still be able to root for a happy ending. Reiner knew was Murphy didn’t: all behavior looks worse onscreen.