Saturday, March 8, 2008

Running With Scissors

I don't read as often as I'd like, but that's not the only reason you don't see many book reviews on this blog. Although reading a book involves a similar time commitment to that of a video game, I usually don't find myself with much to say after I've finished a book. I think that's partially because for me books are more personal, and any description of them is littered with comments of "well, you really had to be there." In contrast, games have such technically measurable attributes that it's easier to arrive at some sort of review structure.

I guess it takes a movie to push me over the edge, because I wouldn't be sitting here today to talk about Running With Scissors if it weren't for it's recent film adaptation. I enjoyed the book, but I just didn't have much to say about it. But the movie got me all riled up.

The epic memoir that is Running With Scissors puts you in an odd spot as a reader. The events are so outlandish that you're not really sure if you're supposed to be laughing or crying. But of course the subtle cues of the book cover tilted me a certain way. A kid with a cardboard box over his head… that means I should be laughing (because boxes are funny, duh). The back of the book reinforced this with quotes like "ridiculously funny", "hilarious", and "loony." Okay, so we're supposed to laugh at this guy's crazy tragic life story. I'm down.

Enter the movie, which tells the exact same story, but this time with moody music and tearful introspection. Had I not read the book, I probably wouldn't have noticed, but I did, and the tone of the movie is an insult to the story as it exists in my head. Someone spoiled the whole thing with a pity party. Don't get me wrong, Augusten's story is a terrible one. But in reading the book I didn't believe he felt it to be so. When you're a kid, and you have no context, you don't know what's normal and what's not. He proceeded through his life the same as any other, laughing away his crazy surroundings. At least that's how I processed it, and I was okay with it because he was okay with it. In no way was it this dreary tale of an emotional boy and his mother's descent into madness. Well, it is, but only if you take an objective adult perspective, and that's not what this story was.

I came out of the movie feeling betrayed. Now I'm that guy. You know, the one laughing at someone else's misfortune. In the book I got lured in thinking that I'm laughing with them, and then the movie comes around and tells me that I'm a terrible person. Well screw that. My reading comprehension may be questionable but I can still list many places where the movie distorted relationships to make them better fit its moping agenda. That makes them dirty liars and thus I can confidently ignore their judgment of my character... right?

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