Anna Karenina: the book vs. the movie

I’ve recently read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and subsequently watched Joe Wright’s 2012 movie adaptation. Since I’m no literary expert I’m not going to delve into the significance and enormity of the novel here, almost everything what can be has been written about it already anyway. So I’m going to use a very un-original and brief consensus: I liked it.

What I do want to write about instead is the way the filmmakers chose to condense this complex and multilayered story into a two-hour movie. When adapting a book to film, one has to decide whether the goal is a straightforward re-telling of the narrative or a re-imagination of the story with the help of visual and cinematic effects. Joe Wright went with the second option and decided to direct a movie which creates the unorthodox illusion of stage play with the usage of elaborate theatrical sets. Now although the critics more-or-less liked the approach, many have said the he chose style over substance, but in this case I want to defend him. Prior to watching the movie I intentionally avoided any information about the production since I can’t stand the littlest of spoilers, therefore I did not know what to expect. At first I was taken aback a little by the visuals, but as the story went on and the director’s intention became clear I became convinced that he chose the right way, or I might say the only way. What I mean is if you must make another adaptation of Anna Karenina (which the studio was obviously compelled to do so) in 2012, you have to put a little twist on it to make it unique. To create an adaptation with a digestible length you have to cut several storylines and leave out whole characters anyway, which in turn will lead to the spoiling of the overall effect. It is always unfortunate because fans will almost certainly will not like it, their expectations are too high anyway, and experience shows us that if a well known and beloved novel receives an adaptation the best review the filmmakers could hope for is something in the vicinity of “yeah, it’s beautiful to watch, but it is inferior to its classic literary counterpart”. That is why I feel that the direction in this case was justified, because it turned a simple adaptation into something more, something unusual and something which employed successfully the unique tools at its disposal.