In Flowers for Algernon, Charlie Gordon, a mentally challenged man working as a janitor in a bakery, agrees to an experimental surgery that turns him into a genius... and brings him heartache.
I still seem to be going through a phase of reading the books some of my favorite films were based upon. It's always interesting to me to see what the filmmakers changed in order to tell their own versions of the story.
I've watched two different film adaptations of this book: 1968's Charly, starring Cliff Robertson (who won an Academy Award for his performance in the title role), and 2000's Flowers for Algernon, starring Matthew Modine.
Both films opted to make a kinder, gentler version of Daniel Keyes' book.
The book is written as a series of progress reports, and they provide a vivid picture of Charlie's mental and emotional intelligence. The sections in which Charlie was mentally challenged were literally painful for me to read because my eyes simply did not want to translate so many misspelled words. This reaction did surprise me, and I was certainly glad when Charlie's reports began to improve post-surgery.
I think the thing that surprised me the most in a comparison between the book and the movies was Charlie's anger. Post-surgery, Charlie realizes that all his good friends at the bakery, all those guys he had so many laughs with, were really making fun of him all along. Charlie's past has also been hiding some extremely painful episodes. And as his intelligence increases to genius level, he becomes very impatient with everyone around him because they can't keep up. Obviously, the filmmakers decided that much of this (understandable) anger could not be shown because it could jeopardize audience sympathy for the character.
Since the book is written as a series of progress reports, the tone often seems very dispassionate, as if I were being kept at a distance. I'm not sure if I care for this or not. What I do know is that I'm glad I read Daniel Keyes' book. I feel as if I really know Charlie Gordon now, and even though I may have a sentimental preference for the movies, I like him just as much now as I did before. Daniel Keyes created a marvelous character study in which he proves that emotional intelligence is every bit as important as mental intelligence.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt © 2007
Originally published in 1959.
eBook, 228 pages
Science Fiction, Standalone
Source: Purchased from Amazon.