Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Moby-Dick


I watched the film version of this the other night. I remember first watching it many years ago when it was the Sunday night film, which I was allowed to stay up and watch as long as it wasn't too unsuitable, and I was terrified by Queeqeg and his tattooed face.

I'm surprised just how good a version of it the film is. I suppose I shouldn't be, since it was directed by John Huston and the screenplay was by Ray Bradbury, but having read the novel for the first time last year, I'd have said it was pretty much unfilmable. As an aspiring writer, I have to say I'm astonished by how much of the original Bradbury manages to weave into the two hours of film. It's a masterclass in condensing without losing meaning.

I'm reading a biography of Melville at the moment. A fascinating man, given to extremes of emotion. This passage, by his close friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, gives a good indication of the man:

[he] informed me that he had ‘pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated’; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation, and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists – and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before – in wandering to and fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sandhills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature and is better worth immortality than most of us.

So much of this doubt comes across in Moby-Dick. As with McCarthy, who is of course a great admirer of Melville, there is a strong sense that the author's uncertainties are being played out on paper and the twists and turns of the characters reflect the state of confusion in the mind of the author.

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