, Research Paper
Suspension Without Suspense
Though the film Smooth Talk maintains considerable fidelity to Joyce Carol Oates s, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, the written form on which it is based, a single yet critical difference separates a literary masterpiece from a cheap flick s misguided interpretation. The main pitfall of the film adaptation is that it portrays a concrete ending, effectively negating the possibility of alternative conclusions, an intentional device employed by the author. Consequently, the film fails to perpetuate the central motif of confusion so critical to complete appreciation of this literary masterpiece. Conversely, admirable attention is paid to the accurate transposition of other motifs, specifically music, prevalent throughout the story in the movie.
The movie s ending portrays a definite conclusion where a definite conclusion was originally intentionally avoided. Her character s na ve confusion embodies the average teenager. Thus, the ambiguous ending was essential to continuing the motif of teenage confusion. Herein lies a critical obstacle of a novel s film adaptation: whereas an author may purposely leave ambiguous certain events in written form, movies cannot always logically convey that emotional suspension; rather, a comprehensive conclusion is sought in transposition that brings closure to the issue at hand. Joyce Chopra, Smooth Talk s director, was faced with the considerable task of portraying this ambiguity; unfortunately she opted to present a decisive conclusion instead.
In the film, Connie leaves with Arnold Friend, and then returns to her house apparently unscathed. She tells him to never come back, tells her father of her regret not joining them at the barbeque, and walks back into the house and dances with her sister. The end.
The resolution of Connie s personal conflict at the end of the written story is intentionally left ambiguous to force the reader into deducing his or her own conclusion based on the previous sequence of events. What exactly are her motivations for stepping out with Arnold Friend? Will she live? Is this her first and final attempt to save her family, whom she indeed loves? This method of intentional ambiguity proves a very effective device; upon the story s conclusion without sufficient closure, the reader must ponder exactly what Connie s actions and motivations were when she stepped out with Arnold Friend. This search for answers mirrors Connie s and, indeed, most teenagers search, for belonging and comfort while in limbo between childhood and adulthood.
Provided, Chopra s revision of the story s ending was unavoidable, as the story s original ambiguous conclusion was one deemed impossible to transfigure into film by even Oates herself. Nonetheless, by sacrificing the resolution s ambiguity, the movie version loses much of its effectiveness in conveying the confusion and mental struggle of teenagers trapped between childhood and adulthood.
This suspension symbolizes much of the teenage angst and confusion that is a central underlying theme throughout the written work. Therefore, by portraying a decisive ending, in effect answering all the questions for its audience, the film adaptation nullifies the unifying themes of internal tumult and the na ve courting of one s fate, both critical elements essential to complete appreciation of Oates s literary genius.
The film adaptation does, though, effectively continue the musical motifs so prevalent throughout the written original with admirable diligence. James Taylor s, You ve Got A Friend is given special significance in that it evokes memories of easier, happier days with Connie s friends and her sister. The underlying theme of music and its omnipresence throughout most teenagers lives is typified by the recurring role music plays in Connie s life. Music is portrayed primarily as a solace to which Connie retreats; an escape both to and from the mundane ease of her life.
Music is also portrayed as an often underestimated and therefore sinisterly exploited influence. It is this medium through which Arnold Friend first establishes a bond between Connie and himself, citing a similarity in their musical tastes. In his efforts to somehow associate his late twenties self with this teenager, he purports, Listen, [Bobby King] is great. He knows where the action is. Granted, this similarity in their musical interests does not instantly win Connie over, but it does not scare her away either, as she dawdles in the doorway and [won t] come down or go back inside.
Arnold Friend then begins to progressively pacify and woo Connie, complimenting her beauty and assuring her that it won t last long and you ll like me the way you get to like people you re close to. By hearing and eventually believing Arnold Friend s words to be genuine, both the compliments and the subtle threats of what will become of her family if she does not obey, Connie relinquishes herself and steps out with him, thus sealing her fate.
Connie s motivations are unclear at the end of the written story; each reader must deduce his or her own conclusions as to Connie s motivations for leaving, be they delinquent experimentation or a final attempt to protect her family from this monster who will not leave until he has that for which he has come. Because Smooth Talk expands upon the original ending here and provides us with irreverent closure to Connie s saga, much of the confusion is sadly lost in transposition to a film from the original story, effectively weakening the point across which Oates so expertly conveyed in the written original.