Friday, December 9, 2011

Adaptation Angst: The Yellow Wallpaper

Brace yourselves, fans of American and Gothic literature alike: this is happening. Those of you who have read (and taught) Charlotte Perkins Gilman's short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" know that this chilling and slippery tale of a woman's patriarchy-aided descent into madness is not as easy to "get" as it might seem on a cursory reading. Because the short story is written in first person through the heroine's journal entries, the question of reality is constantly, well, in question. Is there a similarly confined woman, ghostly or otherwise, in the yellow wallpaper that covers the room in which the narrator is undergoing the notorious 19th-century "rest cure" for "nerves"? Or is she projecting her own damaged and oppressed artistic psyche onto her surroundings as a response to her depression and her husband's prohibition on writing? Well, at least from the description offered by the site, this adaptation could care less. Rather than being dropped into an unnamed (though even this detail is debatable) narrator's troubled and isolated mind, we get "Charlotte" and her trauma-inducing (and lazy) backstory. A fire! A dead daughter! A sister! Most wrong-headed of all, the summary implies that she chooses to withdraw into the attic room, rather than being passive-aggressively forced to rest there by her physician husband and, crucially, his sister. A dead child is also a misstep, as there is much textual evidence in Gilman's work that her heroine is suffering from post-partum depression, not a diagnosed condition in the time and place of the story, which adds to the narrator's inability to articulate, much less be treated for, her illness. I think anyone who has seen a "women are nuts" horror story can probably guess the likely "reveal" of this film. I'd put good money down that the fire wasn't caused by a freak accident. Though I like Juliet Landau being crazy as much as the next Whedonite, it looks like the only thing this movie will share with its source material is the home decor.
Adaptation Angst: 10.

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