Many successful novels have disappointed readers when they have been made into movies. Likewise, novels that nobody has ever heard of have become an extremely popular film. Occasionally, both the novel and film version are excellent. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks and its film version directed by Nick Cassavetes have both been incredible successful among both readers and viewers for many reason.
The most interesting feature of both the novel and the film is the development of character. Boggs defines this as the “delineation of a single character” (21). The book truly focuses on the characters of Allie and Noah as teenagers, younger adults and elderly individuals. The novel begins by introducing an aged man who calls himself Duke (he is really Noah) He spends every day reading a story to a woman with Alzheimer’s Disease (she is really Allie).
During the flashback sequences we see Allie and Noah meet for the very first time and again as younger adults who have been separated by circumstances. The film focuses mainly on the couple as teenagers while the book focuses mainly on the couple reuniting as younger adults. Both treat the element of the aged couple about the same way. The focus of the book is the characters desires, motivations and decisions. This contrasts sharply with the film which focuses more on external forces with work against the couple.
Thus, the film addresses The Coming of Age theme from Boggs’ book. It represents young people who by some force of nature, event, tragedy etc., are forced to become aware of the adult world and undergo some dynamic change of character (Boggs, 28). The first part of the film follows two teenagers through a whirlwind summer romance. Unfortunately, outside influences concerning wealth and family force them to deal as teens with adult problems. Allie is wealthy while Noah is not. Clearly, Allie’s parents are against her relationship with Noah and actively attempt to break them up, constantly jabbing at Noah’s lack of earning potential. The parents finally move their daughter away with the hopes that college will make her forget all about Noah.
As their lives wear on, both Noah and Allie are further initiated into the adult world, leaving teen bliss far behind. Noah enlists in the army and must fight in the war. Here, he has to contend with his feelings and guilt about the death of his close friend Fin. He returns home to throw himself into the restoration of a house that in the novel, he is left the money for from a former employer, and in the book, has been given the money for by his father. Noah seems to be settling for a solitary existence. Allie has to accept her loss of Noah and chooses to marry for comfort rather than seek the love she had with Noah. Their lives continue on this seemingly lonely track.
Other characters in the novel follow patterns established in Boggs. A foil is a character that represents as contrast with another similar character whose goals, attitudes and actions of are usually opposite of the first (Boggs, 63, 67-68). Lon, Allie’s more acceptable fiancé, is a character foil for Noah. Another set of foils is found in Allie and her mother. Ironically, the reader discovers that, years ago, Allie’s mother was also in love with a poor boy. She made the opposite choice of Allie and now regrets her choices. Also ironically, it is Allie’s mother that actually helps her achieve happiness with Noah.
Thus, these three characters, Noah, Allie and her mother are the film’s dynamic characters. The remaining characters are static, unchanging, but are important to understand the plot and in developing the other characters. The black servants in the Hamilton home are stereotypical of social norms and treatment of blacks in the 1940s. They are overly happy and willing to serve, never unhappy or downtrodden.
The plot structure of both the film and the novel is the same — non-linear. The story really has dual plots which overlap. Both present the exposition through first, the introduction of Noah and Allie as elderly residents of a nursing home and next, the introduction of the two as teens. The conflicts, or complications, are the differences in socioeconomic status, the parent’s lack of approval and their separation. The next set of complications involves the repeated and daily attempts of Noah as an old man to rekindle all these memories in Allie as a old woman.
Boggs explains external conflict as one that occurs between the character and another character, a character and nature, or a character and his society. In this story, the external conflict is the monetary distinctions of class which impede the teens from being together. Allies parents are another external conflict. They hide her letters and force her to move away. Internal conflict, then, occurs within one character. Allie’s choice of whom to marry is the primary internal conflict. Only she can decide this, in spite of the interfering nature of her parents. Also, Allie’s battle to remember her life is a constant internal conflict, as is the elderly Noah’s decision to remain with his wife instead of leaving with his children (a point not developed in the book).
Of course, there are two climaxes. First, we understand that Allie chooses to stay with Noah, and that they apparently marry, have children and grow old together. (This is much more clearly stated in the novel but only implied from the book. For the second complication, the climax is the one small span of time in which Allie actually remembers. Sadly, the denouement is the death of Noah and Allie though we know that they will spend forever together.
According to Boggs, symbols are objects which stand for something else or a concrete object with a charge of associations (Boggs 72). Noah reads from a notebook every day. This notebook symbolizes the lifetime that the couple shared. It is the gateway to Allie’s identity and for Noah to reach Allie. The house is also symbolic. As teens, Noah promises Allie he will restore it from her. He does so even though he doubts she will ever see it. When she sees the picture of the house in the paper, she sets out to find him. The house it is the source of Noah’s obsession and, later, of the couple’s happy life together.
The book combines first person and third person narrative techniques. The parts of the book which occur between the aged Noah and the aged Allie are narrated in first person from the point of view of Noah. However, the only way this point of view can be achieved in the film is through the voice-over narration. From that point on, the book and the movie are both written using third person limited point of view which alternate between Noah and Allie.
Nic Cassavete made some interesting directorial choices. The switches between first and third person do serve to create a little bit of confusion as to the identity of the elderly couple. Generally the reader is first able to recognize that the elderly woman is Allie. She is played by Gena Rowlands, Cassavete’s mother. However, it remains more of a mystery whether James Garner’s character is Lon or Noah. In fact, Garner more physically resembles Kevin Connelly, who plays Lon, than Ryan Gossling, who plays Noah. Cassavete’s decision in casting the film were dead on with the choices of dramatic actors to play the roles. Cassavete chose Aaron Zigman to create the musical score, which is appropriately composed of piano music, the one skill Allie can remember from her youth. The soundtrack includes other music of that time period.
Choosing whether the film or the novel is better would strictly depend on the preferences of the reader/viewer. The film appeals to people who are interested in action and visual stimulation more so than using imagination and insights to get to know characters more deeply, for which the novel provides. Either way, both the novel and the film are excellent ways to spend a day or two.