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Cat’s Cradle: Advocating for Adaptation

Around 530 BCE we have Ajax and Achilles depicted playing dice on this black-figure terracotta-pot. The moment adapts a scene from the Trojan war, creating a moment of respite for the two figures found in Homer’s “Iliad.” 

The moment between the warriors is not featured in the story proper, but points to a larger cultural imagination around the piece. Audiences engaging with the themes and elements of the story creating new material to reflect or adapt their own perceptions.

Adaptation is a part of art. Rarely can a piece exist within a set medium as a singular work without several attempts by artists, directors or studios vying to adapt it. 

Today adaptations are a mainstay of industries like film and television as studios attempt to find the next media franchise, from comics to games to even toys. First looks at the film “Barbie” promise something as weird and irreverent as a film based on a toy can promise. 

Adaptation often depends on the people behind a project. Due to this fact, films vary, with focus of the adaptation on the characters, plot and sometimes the writers themselves. Through an understanding of how media is adapted, a clearer rationale behind adaptation can be achieved. 

There are adaptations interested in portraying a character. This is something comic book films have more recently achieved. Films like “Dredd” and “The Batman” work to distill the canon of a character into a single film, and both regards achieve this, compared to their prior maligned attempts “Judge Dredd” and “Batman and Robin”.

We also have film adaptations of books like “American Psycho.” The director elevated the concept by giving the story deeper nuances. Bateman’s psychosis is more accurately explored in the feature and pushes the film's messaging compared to the book. This is exemplified in the narcissism and insecurity bound up in the presentation of business cards.  

Most recently this has been seen in the HBO adaptation of “The Last of Us.” The show takes the initial narrative as a framework to expand upon and adapt to the medium of television. This is seen in time spent with characters that were only briefly mentioned in the game or explaining the universe through different info-dumps

Finally, there is the adaptation that ignores the text in favor of an artist’s vision. This is seen in Spike Jonze's film “Adaptation” which breaks down the process of adapting the popular novel “The Orchid Thief.” 

This is achieved through the film's writer, Charlie Kaufman, creating a self-insert character who struggles with the adaptation. Complicating things further is the introduction of a fictional brother, lessons on screen writing and a plot involving the original novel's author. 

The final example is a work as interested in the adaptation as the individual adapting it. The novel “Ulysses” follows a day in the life of a Dubliner as he wanders from scene to scene. Often dropping into a stream of consciousness passages, the novel is an unwieldy retelling of the “Odyssey,” the epic poem follow up to the Iliad. 

James Joyce’s novel — in the style of modernism— reimagines ways to tell classic tropes of the genre through the unconventional. The "Odyssey" itself having been retold in the Aeneid, lends itself to this deconstruction as the events of the book mirror those found in the Odyssey. Through the lens of Joyce the narrative explains contemporary life. 

Adaptations often vary in what they adapt and how, though a commonality across each example is a desire to bring something and take something from each piece of media. It is an action that could be described as rhyming, each adaptation brings something new and takes something away. The pleasure comes in the recognition of these elements and the devices at play. 

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him

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