Looking for examples of a literary trope translated to a visual medium
April 4, 2013 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Sometimes in a novel, you will have Character A and Character B. Fast forward to the big twist that Character A and Character B ARE THE SAME PERSON! Obviously this doesn't work when the novel is adapted for the screen, and I'm looking for examples of adaptations that had to deal with this, and how they dealt with it, and any sort of critique of how it was dealt with in the movie/television show. (Spoilers of all sorts inside)

I'm aware of Game of Thrones, Marathon Man and A Kiss Before Dying.
posted by Lucinda to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Fight Club had this and they played it straight right through to the last few minutes.
posted by Mitheral at 7:55 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

So, this is a terrible movie but for some reason I've seen it like five times. (OK, the reason is because I think, on some level, it could have worked and it could have actually been good. But it just didn't.)

Identity is about a bunch of random people trapped together at a little motel, and they all have a bunch of coincidental similarities, and then they all start dying, and then *spoiler* you realize they're all the same person, figments of a crazy dude's imagination.
posted by phunniemee at 7:57 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's the whole (endless) River Song story in Doctor Who, which was doable since part of the story takes place while she's a baby and part while she's an adult (sometimes with both of those parts occurring in the same place/time due to time travel). Plus the particular mythology of the whole Time Lord thing allows "regenerations" so the same character can be played by different actors at different periods in their "lives."
posted by bcwinters at 8:04 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like OP is specifically looking for adaptations only. If I'm wrong about that, then I submit The Usual Suspects.
posted by payoto at 8:07 AM on April 4, 2013

Response by poster: I don't mean to thread sit (or to sound bitchy), but I'm specifically looking for ADAPTATIONS OF WRITTEN WORKS.

To use the Game of Thrones example - in Westeros, you have Barristan Selmy. Then you have Whitebeard, who shows up to help Danerys. It's not until a book or two later that you learn that Whitebeard and Barristan are the same guy, and it is a fairly dramatic reveal that has big ramifications to all involved.

In last Sunday's episode, however, he shows up and is immediately revealed as Barristan, which makes me wonder how the TV show will need to deviate from the novel to cover the ramifications.

(After preview, payoto is right)
posted by Lucinda at 8:09 AM on April 4, 2013

Psycho is an adaptation! :)
posted by Infinity_8 at 8:24 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I may be misremembering this, but in The Princess Bride doesn't the reader learn that the Man in Black is Westley at the same time as Buttercup does?

In the movie it's fairly obvious from the duel scene onward, but not explicitly stated.
posted by selfnoise at 8:39 AM on April 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Westing Game is a children's mystery novel about an eccentric millionaire named Sam Westing who wills his fortune to anyone in a group of strangers who can complete a mysterious puzzle game. The eventual solution to the game at the end of the novel is that Sam Westing is in fact still alive, and that Sam Westing was one of four aliases along with Sandy McSouthers, Barney Northrup, and Julian Eastman. McSouthers is a main character in the story, and Northrup makes an appearance early on, but none of the characters in the book realize that they are all the same person until the end.

There was a made-for-TV movie version of the novel called Get A Clue, and although I did not watch the whole thing and already knew the reveal, it was painfully obvious that those characters were all being played by the same actor.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:56 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shutter Island
Angel Heart
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:01 AM on April 4, 2013

Best answer: In The Lord of the Rings (Return of the King), the female character Eowyn disguises herself as a man named Dernhelm in order to go to battle, bringing the character Merry along with her. In the book, the reader (and Merry) discover that Dernhelm is Eowyn during the "I am no man" scene.

In the movie adaptation, this plot device and reveal are removed entirely, and Merry and the audience are "in on it" the whole time.
posted by hot soup at 9:05 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ooh, The Westing Game! I've read the book but haven't seen the movie.

And Princess Bride I'll have to reread.
posted by Lucinda at 9:13 AM on April 4, 2013

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the movie does a pretty straight adaptation of the book's revelation that Tom Riddle is Lord Voldemort, made easier by the magics and such (and the fact that he is a much younger version).
posted by pitrified at 9:15 AM on April 4, 2013

Shutter Island did a decent job of creating suspense around the Laeddis character before revealing that Daniels is, in fact, the 67th patient.
posted by frizzle at 9:18 AM on April 4, 2013

Mainly what this brings to mind for me is "The Importance of Being Earnest," which had the opposite problem.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:26 AM on April 4, 2013

Best answer: "Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde": "Most [adaptions] omit the figure of Utterson, telling the story from Jekyll's and Hyde's viewpoint and often having them played by the same actor, thus eliminating entirely the mystery aspect of the true identity of Hyde, which was the original's twist ending and not the basic premise it is today."
posted by iviken at 9:26 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Following on from iviken, I note that in the Jekyll and Hyde musical I saw, Jekyll/Hyde actually has a duet with himself at the finale. The actor had some long locks (down to his chest) of hair that, when Hyde, dangle in front of his face while his body hunches down with menace. He then flipped the locks over his head so the locks dangled behind him, out of his face, and stood upright and projected his upstanding nature in every other way. At times, Hyde would "interrupt" Jekyll or vice versa and he'd quickly change visage and voice to match the change, and flip his head about as well so his hair would fly into place.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:43 AM on April 4, 2013

Fight Club is an adaptation, right? It was a Pahlaniuk novel before it was a movie.
posted by resurrexit at 10:10 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: iviken > that's EXACTLY the sort of thing I'm looking for.
posted by Lucinda at 10:43 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to be sure I understand: are you looking for story-to-film adaptations in which a character's alternate identity is hidden or obscured? Does it matter whether that secondary identity/alter ego is unknown to the character in question, or hidden from the other characters, or only hidden from the readers/viewers?

If I understand you correctly, then the film adaptations of these books may be useful. [SPOILERS, obviously.]

Psycho, Robert Bloch: It's such a pop-culture touchstone that we often forget that the reveal of Mrs. Bates' identity was a big twist.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie: narrator/murderer (TV adaptation starring David Suchet as Poirot)
The Other, Robert Mulligan: Niles/Holland (This is one character acting as both himself and his identical twin, so the film doesn't have to contort itself to disguise the face or body of the alter ego character.)
I Know What You Did Last Summer, Lois Duncan: Bud/Collie (I haven't seen the film, so I don't know how or even if reveal this was tackled, but it seems too fundamental to the story for the film to ignore.)
and keep an eye out for Guillermo del Toro's planned adaptation of Dan Simmon's Drood.

I'm a little confused by the inclusion of Marathon Man, perhaps because I haven't read the William Goldman book. Are you referring to Dr. Zsell's adopted identity, or (Babe's girlfriend) Elsa's hidden agenda; is that enough to qualify for your list? Or am I forgetting a further confusion/obscuring of identity? Or --- most likely --- am I misunderstanding your request?
posted by Elsa at 12:55 PM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Someone on the blue earlier today mentioned the adaptation of The Remains of The Day. I'm also thinking of another adaptation of an Ishiguro novel, Never Let Me Go, which I couldn't finish for the following reason:

In both novels, the narrator has a fundamental ignorance or deep denial of a very significant part of his/her life that is gradually revealed to the reader in a very circuitous way. I haven't seen The Remains of the Day, though I'm told that the effect was achieved in it with some great success. Never Let Me Go spoiled the slow reveal in the first moments of the movie, and then I turned it off.
posted by libraritarian at 1:16 PM on April 4, 2013

Someone on the blue earlier today mentioned the adaptation of The Remains of The Day.

That was me, in the memorial thread for its screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. There is confusion and obfuscation in The Remains of the Day, but as I recall it isn't about characters' identities, rather about character's motivations and actions being (willfully? stubbornly?) misinterpreted or ignored by the protagonist.

Some more story-to-film adaptations of (what I think) you're looking for, Lucinda. [HUGE SPOILERS, SUCH HUGE SPOILERS]

Witness for the Prosecution, short story & play by Agatha Christie, film by Billy Wilder: The defendant's wife Romaine (Christine in the play and film) appears as chief witness for the prosecution, but she also disguises herself as a nameless rival to deliver [faked] exonerating evidence to the defense lawyer. In the end, she reveals this ruse (intended to discredit her own damning testimony and free her guilty husband) to the defense and the audience/reader.

Secret Window, Secret Garden, novella by Stephen King, made into Secret Window starring Johnny Depp. Author Mort Rainey is terrorized by John Shooter, who believes Mort plagiarized his short story years ago... except it turns out that Shooter is a figment of Rainey's imagination and he himself has been killing beloved pets, setting fire to homes, and worse.
posted by Elsa at 1:34 PM on April 4, 2013

The Prestige has a variant of this — not two characters who are actually the same person, but two characters who are actually two people, but not in the way you thought. In the film the identity of the actor is obscured by make-up and camera work.

Sleuth is an adaptation, but of a play, so the original faces the same staging problem as the adaptation.

I guess the relevant TVTropes page is Two Aliases, One Character, but there doesn't seem to be much there satisfying your requirements.
posted by stebulus at 1:56 PM on April 4, 2013

Response by poster: Elsa >Here's what I mean:

In the book of Marathon Man, you don't realize that Scylla (the government secret agent) is also Doc, Babe's brother, until Scylla is stabbed by bad guys and then goes to Babe's doorstep, bleeding to death, and Babe goes "DOC!"

In the movie, you realize it as soon as Roy Schneider (Scylla/Doc) visits Dustin Hoffman (Babe) for the first time.

stebulus > Two Aliases, One Character is the trope I'm talking about, but you're right, there aren't many adaptations there.
posted by Lucinda at 2:04 PM on April 4, 2013

Angel Heart, adapted from a novel called Falling Angel. Harry Angel is the same person as the crooner, Johnny Favourite, he has been hired to find. I'm not sure if this meets your requirements as it is dealt with by never showing Favourite on screen. I haven't read the book, so can't confirm if the novel has flashbacks that would have revealed the twist if shown on film.
posted by arha at 2:07 PM on April 4, 2013

Elsa mentioned "I Know What You Did Last Summer," which is what I thought of right away. The answer - unsatisfyingly for you, I imagine - is that because the book's plot hinged on this reveal, the movie-makers scrapped the book's plot and basically invented a new one from scratch, keeping nothing the same but the premise and the title. The characters who are the "same" in the book do not appear in the movie.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:33 PM on April 4, 2013

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