Although the David Lean 1948 version of Oliver Twist is very much similar to the Dickens novel there are some clear differences. One ofthe main differences is the opening scene of both the movie and the novel. The movie opening seems to be more scenic and dramatic while the books opening is more rushed and dialogue driven. In this essay there will be a detailed description of both scenes including the opening and the introduction of Oliver and his mother into the storyline. It is amazing to see the distinct cinematic differences versus the literary ones.
As the opening credits roll, the viewer is shown a dark night sky with clouds and a full moon above him. Bare branches are shuttering in the wind and although one can hear the wind there is no music in the background. The viewer sees a close up of a pregnant woman in pain, but with determination in her eyes as she walks towards an old building up a hill to the sound of escalating thunder. She is clearly suffering and using every ounce of her strength to get to safety as it starts pouring rain. Hanging onto a tree trunk to stabilize herself, she takes a deep breath as to relax her body and walks on towards the building.
With the last ounce of power she has left, she manages to ring the bell next to the entrance and is immediately escorted inside by a man. One can see the gate light up from the luminance of the lightening reading “Parish Workhouse”. The viewer is immediately directed into a dark room filled with the Sound of a crying baby as the storm fades. One sees the close up of the woman’s face, wet from her own sweat and pale with death. She looks around the room to see her child and grins momentarily before sinking into her pain. Beside her one sees a man and old woman sitting by a burning fireplace as if lost in deep thought.
She reaches out to the man by the fireplace and without saying a word he turns around picks up the baby and places it in the mother’s arms. With a swift kiss to the cheek and gentle smile she dies almost instantly. Upon her death, the man gets his things and checks her hand “ The old story, no wedding ring I see, goodnight” says the man to the nurse and swiftly walks out of the room. As the nurse collects the baby she notices the beautiful gold necklace upon The chest of the mother, lost in though she contemplates what to do with it and upon not coming up with an answer she swiftly exits the room with the child.
In the beginning of the novel, Dickens does not mention anything of the climate or surrounding of the scence, nor does he mention Oliver’s mother walking through the storm to the workhouse. Instead he opens the novel with the narrator ass a boy born in the workhouse and is unfortunately automatically inserted into a world of pain and misery. His mother, although dying extends her arm and says, “let me see the child, and die” (p. 18). In the movie the mother remains speechless, as she is too weak to move let alone speak.
What follows is the dialogue between the surgeon and thee nurse. In the movie this passage is excluded and is only condensed into one line. In dickens novel he suggests that the nurse is a drunk, talking about how she always has her “green bottle” up to her lips and smells of beer. In the novel the nurse talks about her own life and says “lord bless her dear heart, when she has lived as long as I have, sir and had thirteen children of her own, and all on’em dead except two, and them in the wurkus with me, she’ll know better than to take on in that way, bless her dear heart! ” (p. 8) Also, a passage excluded from the movie is how the nurse dressed baby Oliver. This is where Dickens goes on to hint at and explain that without the rags he could have been a noble child or a beggars child, but due to the rags he was dressed in he was automatically assigned to a life of poverty and branded an orphan. In the movie there is no hint that the Oliver could have come from a wealthy family other then the gold necklace his mother wore which was not announced in the book. Both the scene and the first chapter of the novel end with the same line “ Oliver cried lustily.
If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to the tender mercies of the churchwardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder” (p. 19). David Leans adaptation of the novel started with the input of his own style onto the writer’s novel. Lean preferred a much more fast passed moving story, and excluded much of Dickens lengthy dialogue. Dickens narratorial voice vanished as well along with any comical intent the author had. Lean, however touches upon many controversial topics, Setting the scene with dark alleyways and nooks and crannies symbolizing a postwar environment.
Along with that he also clearly has a strong anti-sematic influence with his character Fagin, who caused much controversy at the time. He uses many expressionist camera techniques point of view shots to help with Dickens grotesque. Much filmed on a sound stage and with false background, he gives the work a sense of melancholy. Cruikshank’s original illustrations were the inspiration for the films direction and were boosted into effect with the use of black and white cinematography and selected make up. In the beginning shots of the workhouse, Lean outlines a “reality. His direction here is objective, although there is a clear irony in the set and the grimy name of the workhouse. The carvings proclaiming, “God is Love” in the working halls of the workhouse are clearly a stab at the hypocrisy in Dickens’ novel. The clearest example of Lean’s cinemotographyis found in the opening sequence of the film. In the middle of a storm Oliver’s mother is clearly in labor and Lean with one swift moment on a country road in the midst of a sudden storm, Oliver’s mother begins to give birth to him.
In one travelling movement in, he tries to objectively record her physical reactions “a medium shot to medium close shot, her body arched, head tilted back, grimacing”. He uses lightening not only to add to the dramatic effect of the storm but also to symbolize her sudden pain and contractions. The branches also symbolize her pain, as they are sharp and bobbing Endlessly in the wind. Oliver Twist was Dickenson’s second novel and gained popularity very quickly. He mocks the hypocrisy of this time period by using dark humor and sarcasm, not always seen in the movie. Poverty is a very important and main subject in this novel.
Dickenson also uses a lot of symbolism, including the subject of good vs. evil, which is seen through out the novel. Dickenson is considered to be one of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century and his novel Oliver Twist remains a widely read and appreciated book. Lean’s adaptation of Dickens novel seems to not only highlight the original story but also give it a new light suitable for the time it was released in. although no movie or book are exactly alike, it seems as though Lean’s version of Oliver Twist remains to be a both adored and controversial movie worth not only watching but observing and understanding.