Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Human Stain: Handout for the Film

Film: The Human Stain (2003)
Set in the Berkshires of Western MA (where I grew up). With Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris.

Trivia Tidbit #1: The college scenes are of Williams College, Williamstown, MA. My parents just moved there, and my brother has lived in Williamstown for several years.

Trivia Tidbit #2: Richard Russo, author of our next novel, Straight Man, has a cameo appearance in an early scene, at a table with other faculty members, when Coleman Silk is being told by Delphine Roux that he has made a racist remark. See if you can identify Russo…don’t blink!

Bonus Item: Anna Deavere Smith, who plays Coleman’s mother, came to Purdue a year ago. In her talk, she offered three questions that get to one’s character and history: 1) When have you come close to death?; 2) Have you ever been accused of something you didn't do?; 3) What were the circumstances of your birth?

Since we read the novel prior to seeing the film, and this is the only film and novel combination we are discussing, I would like you to reflect especially upon the similarities and differences between the two art forms, and upon the art and craft of the novelist and of the filmmaker.

Questions for Discussion

1. The film’s opening scene is not the same as the novel’s opening pages. What do you think of this structural difference?

2. What characters are more developed, or developed in a different way, for you in the film versus the novel?

3. Comment upon the film’s development, or lack thereof, of these characters:

· Delphine Roux
· Iris Silk
· The Silk children
· Les Farley

4. Describe your reaction to the flashback of the relationship of Coleman and Steena Paulsson.

5. Do you think the director made a good decision to “telescope” the character of Delphine Roux?

6. Aside from a few outdoor scenes of the idyllic Williams College campus, the higher education context discussed in the novel is underplayed in the film. Does this matter? Is it important that Coleman Silk is a college professor and former dean?

7. Comment upon the scene where Coleman’s father speaks to Coleman at the dinner table regarding his boxing.

8. Comment upon Nathan Zuckerman’s statement “The things that restore you can also destroy you.”

9. Comment upon Coleman’s mother’s statement “Coleman, you think like a prisoner; you are white as snow and you think like a slave.”

10. Comment upon Coleman’s sister Ernestine’s remarks at his funeral, when she says to Nathan Zuckerman “People are just getting dumber.” Relate your comments to the film, and also to education in general, and our present society.

11. Do you have any comments or insights into other ways that the filmmaker handled the novel’s adaptation? Was the film what you expected? How might you do it differently?

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