Friday, August 3, 2012

“Best Damn Book I’ve Ever Seen”: SWEET LAND

SWEET LAND. Ahhhh, Schweet Land – a film with spectacular sweeping landscapes, minimalist dialogue, lovely character development… and based on the short story, (yes, a SHORT story,) “A Gravestone Made of Wheat” by the wonderfully talented Will Weaver.

As a writer, reading and movie viewing for entertainment are all but lost to me. I spend my days picking apart plot, like some half-blind seamstress in purgatory, unraveling a never-ending seam, never feeling the surprise of having just seen or read “the best damn book I’ve ever read” or “the best damn movie I’ve ever seen.” So when I do lose myself in a book or movie, I sit up and take notice. And such is the case with this movie and this short story!

As is more typical of myself, I saw the movie first. Besides catching me off guard, there was something nagging about this movie plot  – something to do with the opening and closing scenes. And then there was the dialogue – so little of it! How does a writer do that? Write a novel with so little dialogue, yet carry off the story so well? So, off I ran to the library for a copy of what I thought would be a full-length novel. Well, that’s when I learned, it’s not a novel, but a short story… and there was that thing that was nagging me about the plot! A divergence in the story, something that made my little brow pucker and my eyes go all squinchy…

Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! – Go watch the movie now! Go read the short story NOW!

That nagging divergence was… the death of different main characters which alters the story, thematically, on a seismic scale. Does a character really exist if there is no documentation to support HER existence? Is there a paper reality regarding law? Does a marriage not exist if there is no legal ceremony? “Why? Why did the director do this?” is what that little half-blind seamstress/editor in my head was asking. Despite scouring the internet for answers, I came up with none, but that doesn’t stop this obsessed yarn picker. I’m not too proud to go out of my league and straight to the source! I e-mailed the author, who very graciously agreed to speak with me about those changes, from his perspective, and some possible reasons for the changes.

“Most adaptations are contractions, but short story adaptations are expansions,” explained Mr. Weaver who was consulted regarding the film adaptation. “My short story popped up in a literary journal, Prairie Schooner, and a young film maker, Ali Selim, read it and got in touch with me. He thought it would make a great little movie.” Mr. Weaver defends the changes. “In the expansion of the film, he had to move away from that pointedness. My short story was about one moral dilemma – how do I keep a promise? That (single issue) may have been too small. It is essential to add rings – to grow it from the inside – in an attempt to get more than that single question out of the story.”

And one of the more obvious expansions made in the film adaptation was without question, visual impact. “I think it’s what E.M. Forester would call, ‘the effect of land on character.’” Following a brief discussion regarding similarities in this regard with another fabulous film based on another astounding short story, BROKE BACK MOUNTAIN, by Annie Proulx, Mr. Weaver adds, “the effect of landscape tends to shrink our need to talk,” as a means of adapting a short narrative with very little dialogue into a full-length film, also, with very little dialogue.

With regard to the lack of dialogue, Mr. Weaver points out, “we have that shy, reticent Scandinavian – who has an inner life – not a talker. She was the talker and he was the silent one, but he had no less emotion going on inside.” Regarding the lack of subtitles, that “was an artistic decision that I supported in the end. Modern Hollywood films do everything for us. There is very little space for us as viewers to intersect with it, so leaving off the subtitles gives us something to do, guess, and make inferences, etc. … It’s a nod to the intelligence of the audience.”

In the case of this film, it is also a nod to the prowess of the actors who negate the need for subtitles. The language barrier for the characters becomes a language barrier for the viewer, which, in turn, creates sympathy between the viewers and the characters.

I extend my profound thanks to Will Weaver for his insightful perspective regarding the writing and the film adaptation. (And I did re-watch the movie to see your cameo appearance. You do “puzzled” very well!)

Will Weaver writes both young adult and adult fiction and this year, he has a new book out, THE SURVIVORS,  (Harper Collins,) a sequel to MEMORY BOY. I couldn’t wait for the Kindle versions to come out, so I’ve just ordered my print copies. I hope you do too!

If you too enjoyed this film and short story, you might also enjoy…

BROKE BACK MOUNTAIN, directed by Ang Lee, and based on the 1997 short story of the same name by Annie Proulx.
KINAMAND, (2005, Danish, filmed in Denmark and China,) directed by Henrik Ruben Genz. This film also employs the use of minimalist dialogue as both a point of conflict and pivot point, a marriage of convenience, and the artistic use of subtitles, (and lack there of.)

Next month, (on First Fridays,) join me in a nit-picky comparison/contrast of  another “Best Damn Book I’ve Ever Seen”, Jane Eyre, and its many different film adaptations! (Yes, I’ve seen them all.) It holds a very special place in my heart.

Sofie Couch is "raising a pa'r-a-normal young adults and writing in the same genre." Her books can be found at or she can be found waxing philosophically at

Coming soon-ish:
FLIPPIN’ THE BIRD: A Puddin’ Plot Mystery
BEQUEATHED BRIDE (a sweet romance,)


  1. Eeek...I read the spoiler! I read the spoiler! And I haven't read the book or seen the movie yet...but now I will! The good news is that I won't remember what I read. :-) Thanks for your great insights!

  2. You'll absolutely love it! It's amazing - both book and movie!