Let’s just get this out-of-the-way, today I am not going to write about The Hunger Games. Nope, today I’m going to talk about one of my other loves, or one of my first loves, and that just happens to be the 20th century American author by the name of John Steinbeck.
I first read John Steinbeck’s work when I was 13 years-old, it was the novella Of Mice and Men, and since then I’ve re-read it, and slowly read through about half of Steinbeck’s other works, and you gotta know this– there are a lot of works with his name on it, but what I have read includes Cannery Row, The Red Pony, The Grapes of Wrath, Travels with Charley, a memoir about his trip around the country in a truck with his beloved Standard Poodle Charley, The Long Valley, and my favorite full length novel out of his dossier, East Of Eden. Which brings me to the tie in to the title of this little article, East of Eden is going to be the project that brings our Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence, and The Hunger Games’ original director extraordinaire, Gary Ross back together once more.
East of Eden is a huge novel, in fact my tatty copy has counted 602 pages, single spaced I might add, as well as what looks to be 10 pt. font, or perhaps smaller. This is no project that should be taken on lightly, not only due to the vastness of the story’s length and breadth, but also for the cultural pedestal it’s been put on since 1952, when it was originally published. Eden, as I call it, has been adapted three times, once most famously in 1955, a second time on the stage, and a third in a mini-series in 1981. I’ve seen only one of these adaptations though, and that’s the 1955 Elia Kazan production which starred the now legendary James Dean. Kazan’s adaptation was good, but imperfect, and I dubiously say imperfect because the studio, the screenwriter, and Kazan made the decision to focus on only a few chapters from the last third of this massive story of a novel.
A slew of characters were cut down, cut out, or completely morphed into something else in Kazan’s now considered masterpiece, and one of those characters just happens to be the role that Jennifer Lawrence will be taking on. Her name is Cathy, or Kathy, or Catherine, or Katherine– Cathy as she’ll always be in my head, is not a pleasant sort, actually Cathy is probably one of the most unpleasant, sociopathic, victimizing, users of a fictional human being you will ever come across in 20th century American literature. Also, I love her. Yesterday when I read that Ross and Lawrence were teaming up again, I knew before I read the body of the article linked to me in my inbox, that Jennifer was playing Cathy. There was no doubt in my body, or my mind that she would be taking on anyone else featured in Steinbeck’s work, because for one thing there aren’t a lot of female characters of great note in the novel other than Cathy. However, if you’re a big fan of the ’55 adaptation, I don’t judge you for thinking she was taking on Abra, the sweet, loving love interest to the twins Aron and Cal Trask. Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t do sweet and loving though, she does complicated, passionate, and intelligent, at least those are the types of roles she’s taken on that have gotten her the most attention. Case in point, Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games, and Silver Linings Playbook, also if it’s ever released, Serena. To be clear, Cathy is the kind of character that most actresses wait their entire careers to play. It’s seriously a miracle that Jennifer Lawrence is the right age to take on someone as dynamic as Cathy is, especially since the character’s life in the novel spans from childhood to middle age, something that was left out of the 1955 version almost entirely, as it brought in Cathy as an older, decrepit woman.
Now about Ross, not going to lie I’m not a huge fan of what he did with The Hunger Games as a whole, however I am a fan of his previous works like Pleasantville, Sea Biscuit, Dave, and Big. He’s a good writer, he’s a visual thinker in his writing, which is what I believe is needed in a new interpretation of Eden, because Steinbeck’s work is like drinking in atmosphere with words. Visually speaking I also think that Ross’ aesthetic fits the kind of settings that Eden takes place, which is late 18th, and early 19th century central California, AKA Steinbeck’s own backyard. Ross’ directorial work, at least to me, has almost seemed to be an almost love letter to the past, Pleasantville being his 1950s throw-back to situation comedies, and Sea Biscuit being a period piece set in the Great Depression era of the 1930s, and then The Hunger Games which also felt like it was set in the past, again– at least to me. I’m glad Ross is taking on this daunting task, I’m even more glad to know that he’s taking into account the size of the project and realistically planning for it to be a two part film. Why? Because 602 pages being cut down to two hours and 45 minutes, would likely require cutting out a slew of characters again– and I don’t even mean minor characters, I mean people who broke bread with each other for 30 years, kept each others secrets, and in one characters case raised another characters kids, because there was no one else there to do it, and also because they are awesome.
Gosh darn it folks, go read the book!