Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Keeping "My Sister's Keeper" Out of It

I saw the film adaptation of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper this past weekend. Honestly, it was much better than I'd expected it to be. I only went to see it in the first place because my mother asked me to go--I very rarely watch films based on books I've read and enjoyed. I hadn't planned on being into it, on having tears pouring down my face for the film's duration ... but that's what happened.

If I'd walked out of the theatre at the requisite beach scene (this seems to be a requirement in films about the dying), I probably would have given it a grade in the B range.

However, I didn't. I stayed for the ending. And that's where my issue with the film came into play ...

******SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT THE ENDING RUINED******

Picoult's novel builds up some heavy themes--death and dying, the bonds between siblings and the incredible depths to which they reach, legal rights for children whose parents aren't necessarily acting in their best interest, and so on.

After reading My Sister's Keeper, I kept the book in my heart. I thought about the agonizing choice faced by Sara and Brian Fitzgerald, who must cause two of their children agonizing pain (one physically through forced blood, bone marrow, and potentially a kidney transplant and one emotionally through serious neglect) in order to pour their energies into keeping their cancer-stricken daughter Kate alive. The book's denouement, which sort of puts their decade-long fight into a grim and terrible perspective, brings up questions about fate and God and karma. It makes you think.

The ending might not be realistic (as my ever-practical nurse practitioner mother points out, there's no way a girl weakened to the point of death by leukemia would ever survive a kidney transplant), but it makes you think.

The film adaptation went for the cop-out. It went for the cliche. It turned Picoult's carefully crafted work into a watchable tearjerker, sure, but it was a story we've all seen or read before: kid-with-cancer-suffers-terribly-and-so-does-her-family-and-then-she-dies-and-everyone's-really-sad.

This is where the English teacher and writer in me comes out. For one thing, and not to beat a dead horse, but that book makes you think. It leads to rich discussions, to moral debates, to mind-stretching. Furthermore, I know a lot of people who read that book that haven't read a book in years. I've recommended it to students, many of whom have never finished a "real" book, and they couldn't put it down. It's what bothered me about Holes, about Twilight, about Bridge to Terebithia. Here are these great books that kids will actually read, and they make movie adaptations that make reading the books obsolete, at least as far as many kids are concerned.

But anyway, if you've read My Sister's Keeper and you take in the film, leave after the pizza in the hospital. Trust me. You won't be disappointed that way, and you can imagine the ending how you want it to be.