26 April 2012


One of my students told me about this movie, a recently released Turkish adaptation of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, which we read this semester. By some miraculous twist of fate, it was showing with English subtitles (why? Who knows!), which meant I could fully appreciate the film, and work on my Turkish! Perhaps it is because the book is one of my all-time favorites, and I've read it very recently, but I was quite impressed by the movie. I think it stands alone pretty well though; my friend who saw it with me, who hadn't read the book in years, also enjoyed it.

The book is not at all an easy one to adapt - the first part is a 40 page monologue, sometimes considered a masterpiece of Existentialist thought, a man deliberating about the nature of freedom. The second half describes some of his adventures in the world. It is, in some sense, a necessary addition to the text, providing a kind of practice for the theory of the first portion, or perhaps, an illustration of its impracticability. The movie, in some sense, takes the next step in this direction, making these interactions even more concrete, and translating them into present day Ankara. It is impressively successful in making a decidedly oddball character completely believable - no small feat.

While the movie does not, unfortunately, give you a full taste of the narrator's philosophical dilemmas, it does make for a great companion piece to the film, particularly with the addition of a new character (and plotline), the cleaning lady. She's a really thought-provoking cipher for some of the questions the book raises; an intriguing addition. I'd love to hear more about the screenplay author's reasons for including her. Another interesting aspect of the film was this addition of a kind of side plot about dogs. I was particularly tickled by this because I had given my students a paper prompt asking them to discuss the human-animal dichotomy in either The Metamorphosis or Notes from Underground - an extremely difficult question to bring to the novel, but reading it alongside Kafka suggested it to me, and two of my students were in fact so brave as to attempt it. So I was delighted to see this subtext developed more fully, and in really interesting ways.

Overall, a really enjoyable film, an impressive adaptation of a wonderful but fiendishly uncinematic book that actually brings it persuasively into a contemporary context.

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