Tuesday, May 22, 2018

How Do I Decompress? Read Fiction, of Course.

Oh, I probably rewatch a film or two as well.

I saw a film called Atomic Blonde a while back, which I really enjoyed. A bit later, I realized that there was a graphic novel, The Coldest City, upon which the film was based. Naturally, I had to read the novel, and its prequel (The Coldest Winter - set in the winter of 1981-1982 in East & West Berlin, and featuring one of the lead characters from The Coldest City). My assumption is that most of those reading this post have probably both viewed the film and read the book. That said, I'll keep this brief to avoid spoilers to the extent I can.

Let's just start by stating the obvious. The book and the film are drastically different experiences. Some of the events and characters in the book overlap with the film, but not entirely. There is a Lorraine Broughton in both media, although the only time she appears to be blonde is when she briefly wears a blonde wig. She's definitely bright in both the book and the film, and can handle herself in combat both in book and film (although the film is much more generous in terms of fight scenes). Who she really is otherwise is completely different, depending on whether one is reading the book or watching the film. There is also a David Percival in both, although the Percival we encounter in the book is an aging rogue British spy, and the in the film he's a considerably younger agent who's "gone native" during his tour in West Berlin. In both the book and film he crosses the border between East and West Berlin with ease. In both, he is clearly misogynistic and arguably something of a narcissist. Otherwise, there's little resemblance. The exact nature of the list that Broughton is supposed to find differs depending on whether you read the book or view the film. I think it's safe to say that the ultimate fate of the Stassi official who wishes to defect is similar in both, even if the sequence of events leading to the end of his particular story differs. By the time I got done listing differences, I would probably consume multiple posts, including the way that Broughton and Percival are first introduced.

I'll refrain. Instead, what I will note is that the film is focused more on the psychology of the characters and their interactions. There's some question about Percival's motives, so much of the way the story plays out in the book hinges on the question of the extent to which Broughton's superiors fall victim to confirmation bias. I think that same question is there in the film, but made more obvious. The graphics in the novel paint a stark picture of the events that unfold, and do succeed in giving the reader the impression of West and East Berlin as cold and unforgiving spaces in which to exist, especially as the Cold War was about to come to a close. There is a sense of paranoia that the book successfully portrays that the film might just barely miss. The film brings in much more color and action, places more emphasis on romantic entanglements and their significance in a profession that is based primarily on secrets and lies. Both the book and film explore the nature of trust in such an environment. In each, Broughton has a different reaction to the protests in East Berlin in late 1989 when she switches on the television for the first time - and those reactions hint at where her loyalties ultimately may rest. Which is which I will leave up to you.

In most cases, I tend to prefer the book to the film. In this case, although I enjoy both, I probably enjoy the film a bit more. I suspect part of that has to do with my position at the time the Berlin Wall was about to fall. At the time, I was a student and like many young men and women in 1989, I was astounded by how quickly events unfolded in what would soon become the former Soviet Bloc. I think the film does a better job of capturing that sense of surprise, wonder, and optimism in a way that the book does not. The book views the impending demise of the Cold War in a way that I could almost imagine seasoned intelligence agents viewing those same events unfolding: probably more realistically and pessimistically. That said, I think that both the book and the film offer a glimpse into what it was like to be alive in late 1989 and the significance of the events occurring in that era. Both have merit in that sense. Just realize that each is a different experience, and for all intents and purposes the book and film might as well be separate universes. I am under the impression that there will be a sequel to the film. I will be curious as to how that will work out. Most likely, I'll be at a theater when it is released.

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