A husband and wife with three kids suffer a tragedy from which they can't recover. Eventually they divorce. Years later the two run into each other on a street in the town by the sea they once called home. This is the scene in Manchester by the Sea that had moviegoers talking last year. The scene is maybe four minutes long, but in this halting, stuttering, soul-baring conversation between two bereaved people on the street, time seems to stop. They’re still drowning in what happened to their family.
You’ll have to see for yourself what happened to this couple played with resonant authenticity by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. You'll see the movie isn’t about their relationship. It’s about Affleck as the ex-husband, alone and adrift on a sea of grief. The death of his older brother brings him back to Manchester for his teenage nephew. In the process of planning the funeral and becoming his nephew’s legal guardian, the past intrudes on the present (as does a bit of humor), culminating with Affleck and Williams’ reunion. With its intrusive flashbacks, character-driven plot and realistic dialogue, the film has the build of literary fiction. At first I assumed it was based on a book, and could I borrow this book from the Library? I’d like to read it!
Alas, there is no book. Manchester by the Sea is based on an original screenplay by its director Kenneth Lonergan. That it was written directly for the screen without bookish source material goes against the tide of Hollywood storytelling. As film industry analyst Stephen Follows reports: from 2005 to 2014, 61 percent of Hollywood’s 1000 highest grossing movies were not original stories. They were adaptations, sequels, spin-offs, remakes or other types of derivative work. Today nary a month passes without some book-to-movie adaptation hitting theaters. (See: the Marvel movies.) Suffice it to say, we’re swimming in movies based on books. Which is good! But...
What if we reversed the tide and made a book based on a movie? This is not a novel idea. It’s a novelization. The marketing synergies behind popular films often publish product tie-ins such as movie novelizations (TV shows get them, too). There are over 200 at the Library and GoodReads lists more. Some I find questionable. Terminator Salvation: The Novel?
A novelization I wouldn’t question is Manchester by the Sea. Its subject matter is heavy, but it ultimately finds humor amid the heartbreak and depicts a modern American man with psychological realism. A man of few words on screen, Affleck’s character and, by extension, his indelible scene with Williams could be fleshed out with many words in a book I’d want to read. The list below brings Manchester together with other movies based on original screenplays that could make binge-worthy books.
For years a meme has circulated on social media that perfectly sums up the difference between a movie experience and a book experience. Here it is. If you feel the same way and have seen a bookless movie you’d like to experience as a read, tell us on Facebook @AustinLibrary, Twitter @AustinPublicLib or Instagram @AustinPublicLibrary. Let’s ask the universe to adapt these movies into books we want to read.