The movie or the book: which is better? This is the perennial question and one that seems quite pertinent now with the release of films like Anna Karenina, Cloud Atlas, The Life of Pi, and Breaking Dawn.
My latest pondering of this question was over Tsotsi, Athol Fugard’s 1980 novel which was made into a film in 2005. In this particular case, I saw the movie first. Set in South Africa, the film tells the story of a young man leading a gang of criminals on the streets of Johannesburg. Tsotsi (a nickname meaning “thug”) leads his small band into an escalating spiral of violence which seems to leave him untouched until the night he discovers an infant in the backseat of a car he has stolen.
Tsotsi won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2005 – it offers both a powerful political statement and a moving take on the mystery of redemption. I might have skipped the book altogether if it hadn’t been for the DVD’s special features, which included two very different alternative endings.
Since I knew the film was based on a novel, I was curious as to the ending the novel presented. So I checked out the book. It’s a short novel and I found it a page-turner. Some parts served to illuminate the film, but most striking for me were the major differences between the two. More precisely, the differences in plot lines illustrated the differences between the two crafts – writing and film-making.
Both succeed and both bring us to the same point at the end. One is not better than the other; together they make a perfect pair.