REVIEW: The Sound and the Fury (1959)
The Sound and the Fury, written by William Faulkner, is universally acclaimed to be one of the best novels ever written by an American. It’s also recognized to be one of the best books of the twentieth century. Its intricate construction and its well-written streams of consciousness underlie a tragedy so total and so complete because the Compson members are unable and unwilling to love one another. From the man-child Benjy, to the selfish Jason, the family is torn from within because they remain inflexible in the face of cataclysmic change. Each of the featured characters end up tragic in their own unique way; it is arguable, however, that the least sympathetic tragedy among them was Jason’s. His tragedy, compared to Quentin’s and Benjy’s isn’t a moral tragedy: the novel itself suggests that Jason is extremely amoral and immoral, that he cannot love beyond a miserly notion for money. His tragedy was the most physical as compared to the torturous mental disintegration of Quentin and Benjy’s permanent entrapment into the mind of a retard. His was a tragedy he himself could rectify. Ultimately, his tragedy was that of an utter resistance to empathy and positive change.
The novel is one of the few films recognized everywhere to be unfilmable: what is there to capture in streams of thoughts? The first three chapters were narrative explorations to the thought processes of different members of the Compson family. How would that be filmable?
Director Martin Ritt’s solution, however, was to film what happened in the novel. The screenplay was also loosely based from the book, and with good reason. Aside from the difficulty of putting into film thoughts, The Sound and the Fury is a visceral and a visual portrayal of a bleak tragedy due to love’s absence: the Compson family is trapped in the past, and not one of the rose up to the occasion, save for the servant Dilsey (who ‘seed the beginning and the end’). Instead of an ineluctable tragedy, however, the scriptwriters opted to write a tragedy with a glimpse of hope.
For me, it made all the difference. I believe in the disjunction of novel from its corresponding film: being anally truthful to the novel would have made the movie boring, and quite unwatchable. There remains to be tragedy: in the end, Benjy is sent to a mental institution, and the Compson house remains to be destroyed slowly. But unlike the novel, Jason’s selfishness and miserliness has a purpose. His austerity aims to hold together the family that was falling apart. He may have been strict; he may have been abhorrently frugal; but with his frugality and his austerity he also showed to Quentin that she was also loved, in his own distant manner. This simple change of outlook and personality of Jason (decently played by Yul Brynner) held the movie together. While it could be edited in places and some scenes cut (the Dilsey moment near the end of the film was quite extraneous), despite everything, there was something to look forward to, and because of that the movie was a good rendition of the novel.
It’s not the best film ever; it’s not even a great film. But I thought its effort of translating the extremely difficult novel of Faulkner to the big screen was wonderful, and it was effort well spent. With that, I give an overall rating of 8/10 for the movie.
The Sound and the Fury can be viewed in YouTube. Directed by Martin Ritt, it is a loose rendition of the seminal William Faulkner novel of the same name.