|'Annaud's primary offering is to emphasise the perceived distasteful appearance of some of the abbey inhabitants, producing here a microcosm of grotesques.'|
The most frustrating non-event in cinematic history for me relates to the time Umberto Eco decided he was unwilling to let Stanley Kubrick adapt his 1988 masterpiece, Foucault's Pendulum. Reportedly desirous to have control over the screenplay, Eco's decision was based on his reported dissatisfaction with Jean-Jacques Annaud's adaptation of his 1986 novel, The Name Of The Rose. Foucault's Pendulum, if you are not familiar with it, is a haze of mysticism, symbols and subtexts; intercut with deep tracks of theology and philosophy. Kubrick would have had a field day and the feeling that we have been robbed of an all time great lingers still.
Despite that, it is easy to see why Eco was disappointed with this. The Name Of The Rose, though serviceable, takes liberties with Eco's text that do not work as well as what was originally there. Though this novel is inferior to that which followed, The Name Of The Rose is still a vivid History, a powerful treatise on sin, a sometime evisceration of the early church and much more besides that I'm sure passed over my head. Only some of that makes it to the screen adaptation and it is a much poorer piece for it.
The core plot, I suppose, remains. William of Baskerville (Sean Connery) arrives at a remote abbey with his young companion Adso of Melk (Christian Slater) to find the abbot in fear after an apparent murder, ahead of a visit by two separate factions of the church. As William puts his powers of inquisition to the test, the mystery deepens and more threat emerges. What exactly is going on the abbey? Are the inhabitants cursed? Have they lost their faith? Or is something much more earthly at work?
You suspect that Annaud did not miss some of the deeper subtexts of Eco's novel and yet the film only seems to focus on some of the surface level offerings. The fact that the seven day structure of the book appears to be dropped can be seen as a rejection of Eco's craft though, actually, you wonder if the author would have approved of this one. During the novel he does rather slyly point out that almost any number can be taken to have biblical connotations.
Annaud's primary offering is to emphasise the perceived distasteful appearance of some of the abbey inhabitants, producing here a microcosm of grotesques. Think though Terry Gilliam when his visions do not work. The grotesques do unsettle, yes, as they reveal themselves and shuffle about the abbey, but the impact of the 'real' characters of Eco's book is lost and Annaud feels as though he spends as long on appearance as he does on character. It's not quite The Island of Dr. Moreau, but it does feel as though we could have sailed there on a short boat ride.
It is anchored though by a non-grotesque performance from Connery, who flashes charisma and pearly whites with abandon and sees the whole thing through. On film though The Name Of The Rose becomes much less than Eco imagined it. You could never describe the novel as 'just about a good Mystery'.