Ani Kokobobo’s “Candid about the Camera: Tolstoy Scholars on Adapting Anna Karenina” is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking things I’ve read on adapting a classic novel; it’s a set of scholarly reactions to Anna Karenina film adaptations based on a special issue of the Tolstoy Studies Journal: Anna Karenina for the Twenty-First Century. I won’t try to summarize the various contributions, I’ll just reproduce one of the shortest and most intriguing, by my man Gary Saul Morson:
My favorite adaptation of Anna Karenina is the old Greta Garbo film because it gets the story EXACTLY wrong. Karenin is made completely beastly, Anna just a long-suffering, completely innocent soul. In the novel, Vronsky goes off to fight the eastern war because Anna has committed suicide, but in the film, Anna commits suicide because Vronsky has left her to fight the Eastern War! The Levin story barely exists, only as much of it as Anna would pay attention to.
In short, the Garbo film is the film that Anna herself would have made. If one sees the difference between it and the novel Tolstoy wrote, one appreciates the difference in perspective underlying the work, and so one understands the novel a lot better. And one grasps the difference between the “pro-Anna” and “anti-Anna” critical traditions better as well.
I now want to see several of the movies they mention, and am curious to see Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters again from this point of view. And here‘s a follow-up post by David Herman.