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As I Lay Dying. 2013. Dir. James Franco. Screenplay by Franco & James Rager; based on the novel of the same name by William Faulkner.
Starring James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack, Ahna O’Reilley, Logan Marshall-Green, Brady Permenter, and Danny McBride. Millenium Films.
Rated R. 110 minutes.
It’s not always necessary for someone to read a novel before they see the film version, however, with James Franco’s As I Lay Dying, an adaptation of William Faulkner’s classic novel, I believe it’s very necessary for someone to have read it.
After that, have a look at Franco’s film.
The reason I say this is because a lot of people don’t really understand, or see the point to, why Franco chose to use a lot of split-screen sequences. First of all, if you’d read As I Lay Dying, you might possibly understand it as how Franco chose to present all the point-of- views within the book. The whole novel is divided into chapters, each one labelled by the name of which character we are hearing the story from- this is why I think Franco wanted to use split-screen a lot.
Sometimes in the novel, you almost have to flip back and say to yourself, “Okay this is Darl’s chapter, this is Addie’s chapter (who in the novel sort of speaks ‘beyond death’ as well)” and so on.
It’s not easy to read William Faulkner in general; I’m a fan, and I still struggle to make it through a novel of his I’m reading. He was one of the first great American writers who was interested in stream-of-consciousness writing. Franco did a great job at trying to recreate that stream-of-consciousness feel.
Second, I love the acting here. Some may disagree, but each of the main actors in particular brought some great work to the film here. Tim Blake Nelson as Anse is incredible. In the novel, it’s known that Anse is not particularly easy to decipher, nor does he always necessarily make any sense either, and he is not a good man, regardless of him agreeing to bring his wife’s body back to Jefferson. Nelson brings the downhome Southern quality to Anse, and I loved every second of the portrayal.
Franco was also a good here. In the book, it’s not always clear if Darl is mentally unstable, or what his deal is, until you read further and further. Franco did well subtly portraying Darl’s his personal journey.
Logan Marshall-Green did a perfect job with Jewel. There is a raw intensity about Jewel, here and in the novel, so his character was one of the best that came through on film. Marshall-Green is fast becoming a favourite of mine. There are more nice performances here, smaller ones, and they hit some great notes. I dig how most of the characters translated into film. It may not be the perfect adaptation, but it was great in terms of acting.
I certainly give this a 4 out of 5 stars.
I don’t feel it’s perfect, but find it close. Franco understands Faulkner, in the way I understand and enjoy him. I’m not saying I’m right about how I view Faulkner’s work, or that Franco is right, or that I’m even correct about feeling the same way as he does about the famous author- I just know what I feel.
There are great moments here, classic moments, in my mind. The split-screen works for me. It really brought to the surface an idea that we were seeing the story through the eyes of the entire Bundren family. That’s how the novel worked, that’s why it was so compelling. Faulkner was a master of the craft. I continue to read his work, and hope one day I’ll have read it all. His novels, short stories (et cetera), are not for everyone. However, they are engaging, and have, for decades, stirred up many debates and critical opinions from one end of the spectrum to the next.
Franco gets what Faulkner was doing in As I Lay Dying. I hope he’ll be able to capture the same understanding with his adaptation of The Sound and the Fury.
Highly recommended. Even if you don’t enjoy it, don’t be one of those people who turns it off after 20 minutes to half an hour. You can’t judge any movie that way. Sorry- you just can’t. Just like a novel. Sit through until the end, and I suggest reading the novel if you enjoy the story, or want to understand Franco’s intentions here.