Get off my back. I've never read Anna Karenina, okay. I haven't even read Android Karenina. And get this: I haven't seen a single one of the heretofore dozen-or-so notable screen stabs at this tome. I have, though, read Don Quixote and Moby Dick. And maybe the most faithful takes on these expansive canon-dwellers have been failures. I'm referring to Orson Welles's sometimes awkwardly earnest and usually stunning piecemeal recitation of Melville's text and Terry Gilliam's quixotic attempt at filming (sort of) the Quixote, as documented in Lost in La Mancha. In a previous post, I thought aloud a little bit about the Fitzcarraldian nature of dragging that big boat of literature up the steep, scree-laden mountain of film, and I think many of the points raised there apply here. That a dozen attempts have been made to film Tolstoy's hulk suggests that no one has so far managed to put a finger on it. I'm reminded of the three attempts made since the new millennium to get The Hulk right.
So how to take Joe Wright's stab at this hulk? The British director has so far tackled mostly books. Here's roll call: Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist. On the whole, his adaptations have been well-received. And this one--certainly the steepest of the mountains he's so far traversed--has been similarly approved. But the question remains: how does one begin to review a movie based on a classic book? Should it judged on its hermetic merits, or on its fidelity to the source material?
Well, there's no answer I can give you. This is a stone I've been swishing around in my own mouth lately. I'd like to proclaim that whatever art should have either a long and limp or else a non-existent tether to its source material, but we all know that fans of the book will always find fault with anyone's interpretation/digestion that isn't their own. And this may be your reaction to Anna Karenina. If it is, please keep in mind: when it comes to things you love, it's rare that anyone else's opinion/interpretation will ever be as articulate/invested as your own--but that don't mean said opinion/interpretation can't be interesting as hell.