Ballooning Love

After reading Atonement I compulsively bought most of Ian McEwan’s books—and then left most of them on the shelves. (To mature, like a fine wine.) When I saw the trailer for the movie version of Enduring Love a couple of weeks ago, I realised I’d better pull my finger out if I was going to read the book first.

But it’s such a page-turner, from the ballooning accident in the first chapter to the stand-off at the end, that finishing it wasn’t a problem. A tale of survivor’s guilt and obsession interlaced with philosophical musings on science, faith, and various forms of love, Enduring Love proves that Atonement was no fluke: McEwan truly is brilliant. He had me going, too, with his journal-article appendix suggesting that there was more to the story than I thought—long enough to search for the journal, anyway, and to discover that I wasn’t the only one.

It was so good that the movie was bound to be a disappointment to some extent, especially seeing it a few days after finishing the book (can’t remember ever having done quite that before). Many of the main features had been changed: a hot air balloon instead of helium; the principals a good 10-15 years younger, unmarried, and their professions changed; and no access to Joe’s internal thoughts, which tosses out most of the philosophical and scientific musing of the book. Some of the changes made the story less believable, though believable enough, I guess, for a 100-minute movie.

But there were good things about it. The opening accident is as dramatic on-screen as in the reader’s mind—the collective gasp around the cinema was proof of that. The Claire of the screen is more of a cipher than the Clarissa of the book, but her new career of sculptor makes for some good visual moments and dramatic devices. It’s good to see London and the English countryside in a movie for a change. And Rhys Ifans is mesmerizing as the obsessive Jed—I just wish they’d made more use of him.

I’d still recommend it. I wouldn’t read the book first if you want to get the most out of the movie; but the reverse probably also applies, so I’m glad I did.