This just in: Mothers in Williamstown, NJ, object to “drug-fueled homosexual orgies.” Well, technically they object to their teenagers reading about them in Haruki Murakami’s revered 1987 novel Norwegian Wood, about nineteen-year-old Toru Watanabe’s relationships with two girls. In August 2011, complaints from a small group of parents that the book contained “illicit scenes” succeeded in getting Norwegian Wood pulled from a tenth-grade summer reading list in Williamstown High School, weeks before school was to start. Fortunately, it won’t be that easy to get rid of Murakami, given his literary-rock-god status, in addition to the rumors that Norwegian Wood is expected to receive U.S. theater distribution. We have been salivating over the trailer for the last few months in anticipation.
The news that Norwegian Wood has recently been banned in this school in New Jersey comes at a time of year when the literary community prepares to talk all about banned books. Beginning in 1982, The American Library Association (ALA) sponsors the annual Banned Books Week celebration the last week of September each year, recognizing the freedom to read by highlighting books and authors that have been challenged or banned. Though many assume that book banning is a thing of the past, incidents like this year’s Murakami ban add to the mounting pile of evidence that book banning is unfortunately alive and well. It seems that books are being challenged more than ever, to the point where the ALA has started issuing annual lists of the top ten most frequently challenged books.
Since we have a soft spot for banned books as much as we do for great films, coming up with the five essential banned-book-based films proved to be a challenging undertaking. We want to hear about your favorite movies based on banned books. Check out our picks and then tell us: What banned book is long overdue to be adapted into a film?
Controversy is hardwired into the DNA of Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel American Psycho, about New York investment banker Patrick Bateman and his affinity for minimalist business cards, Phil Collins, and, of course, committing grisly murders. What Ellis intended to be a satirical look at the yuppie overindulgence of the 1980s offended many, and guaranteed American Psycho a place on The American Civil Liberties Union’s list of most frequently challenged books published from 1990 through 2000. Australia took their distaste a step further, shrink-wrapping American Psycho, and preventing readers under eighteen from being able to purchase the book. Christian Bale starred in the 2000 film adaptation and did not hold back in bringing the sordid descriptions of Bateman’s murders to the big screen. Though it was initially branded with the cinematic scarlet letter rating of NC-17, it was eventually downgraded to an R-rating after the film’s director, Mary Harron, agreed to tone down some scenes.
The story of a middle-aged man who falls in love with his new wife’s twelve-year-old daughter is bound to raise eyebrows in most cultures, so it is no surprise that Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita has become one of the most challenged books of all time. By the time Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film adaptation hit theaters, five countries had already banned the book, citing obscenity. Due to the lingering sensitivities around the theme of pedophilia, Kubrick changed Lolita’s age from twelve to fourteen and cleaned up other suggestive scenes from the book. This resulted in Kubrick ultimately using only a small portion of Nabokov’s original work in the film. Almost thirty-five years after the original film, “Lolita” received a re-adaptation featuring Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain. Though many are loyal to Kubrick’s classic, we think that the modern film adaptation succeeded in being more faithful to Nabokov’s original story.
A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange, follows the exploits of Alex, a juvenile delinquent who is subjected to an experimental behavior-modification procedure as part of the government’s attempt to rid society of crime. Soon after Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange” was released, protestors started targeting Kubrick and his family with death threats, prompting him to request that Warner Brothers withdraw the British distribution. The graphic violence and rapes featured in the film did not sit well with British authorities, who banned the film after a string of copycat incidents that were inspired by the film rocked the country.
Lord of the Flies
Since its publication in 1954, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, about a group of English schoolboys stranded on a deserted island following a plane crash, has been both lauded and challenged. Though Golding won the Pulitzer Prize Nobel Prize for literature in 1983, many continued to challenge The Lord of the Flies for reasons ranging from profanity to violence. Parents have often been the most vocal group to oppose The Lord of the Flies, given the subject matter of civilized schoolchildren descending into savagery being taught to their children. Lord of the Flies has received two film adaptations: The first in 1963 and most recently in 1990. We are of the opinion that the original film trumps the modern adaptation, as it follows Golding’s story better by featuring a British cast, in addition to keeping with the ambiguity of the characters, making it not immediately apparent which are “good” versus “bad.”
The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood’s beloved 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, takes place in a future plagued with widespread infertility, forcing women able to bear children into sexual slavery to serve reproductive functions for the ruling class. In 2001, parents in Dripping Springs, TX, challenged The Handmaid’s Tale, citing that it contains “sexual and anti-Christian content.” Other objections followed, which guaranteed The Handmaid’s Tale a place on the ALA’s most frequently challenged books. In 1990, a film based on The Handmaid’s Tale was released, featuring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Duvall. Though many found the quality of the movie to be a far cry from Atwood’s revered novel, we found the performances to be powerful and the creepy undertone of the story to be very much in tact.