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Slaughterhouse-Five: The Novel and the Movie

Powerful Essays
Slaughterhouse-Five: The Novel and the Movie

In 1972 director George Roy Hill released his screen

adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (or The

Children's Crusade; A Duty Dance With Death). The film made

over 4 million dollars and was touted as an "artistic

success" by Vonnegut (Film Comment, 41). In fact, in an

interview with Film Comment in 1985, Vonnegut called the

film a "flawless translation" of his novel, which can be

considered an honest assessment in light of his reviews of

other adaptations of his works: Happy Birthday, Wanda June

(1971) "turned out so abominably" that he asked to have his

name removed from it; and he found Slapstick of Another Kind

(1984) to be "perfectly horrible" (41,44). (This article was

writen prior to Showtime's Harrison Bergeron, and Fine

Line's Mother Night). A number of other Vonnegut novels have

been optioned, but the film projects have either been

abandoned during production or never advanced beyond an

unproduced screenplay adaptation, indicating the difficulty

of translating Vonnegut to the silver screen. So why does

Slaughterhouse-Five succeed where others fail? The answer

lies in how the source is interpreted on screen. Overall,

while there are some discrepancies that yield varying

results, the film is a faithful adaptation that succeeds in

translating the printed words into visual elements and

sounds which convincingly convey the novel's themes.

While Vonnegut's literary style is very noticeable in

Slaughterhouse-Five, the novel as a whole differs from the

majority of his other works because it is personal with an

interesting point of view techniq...

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...kle every time I watch that film,

because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote

the book" (Film Comment 41). Whether or not someone who has

not read the novel could get some meaning from the film is

hard to decide, but if one considers that it would take just

about as long to watch the movie as it would to read the

book, the decision should be obvious.

Works Cited

Bianculli, David. "A Kurt Post-mortem on the Generally

Eclectic Theatre." Film Comment Nov.-Dec. 1985: 41-44.

Loeb, Monica. Vonnegut's Duty-Dance With Death. UMEA, 1979.

Nelson, Joyce. "Slaughterhouse-Five: Novel and Film."

Literature/Film Quarterly. 1 (1973): 149-153.

Slaughterhouse-Five, dir. George Roy Hill, with Michael

Sacks, Universal Pictures, 1972.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Dell

Publishing, 1968.
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