“The Housekeeper and the Professor” novel vs “50 First Dates” movie:
It’s a shame for a person to deal with the loss of their memory. Life as a whole, the good and the bad seems to disappear. Everything is just erased like it never happened, and a person has to deal with it day by day. As will be shown, literature and cinematography have their own ways of dealing with the topic, in some ways light-heartedly, while in others a bit heavier on it. The novel, The Housekeeper and the Professor written by Yoko Ogawa, and a recent film, 50 First Dates directed by Peter Segal, seem to do just that: explore the topic from different viewpoints, thus giving us a glimpse and the feeling of what it would be like if it happened to us.
The case of the professor in Ogawa’s novel seems all too real. Having been in an automobile accident a few years back, he ends up suffering severe brain damage, which in turn construes his memory functions. What makes his case so interesting, is that he can remember a theory he developed several years back, yet has absolutely no recollections of what he had for dinner the night before. As his sister-in-law explained, it was although he had an eighty-minute video tape inside his head over and over. Similarly, in Segal’s 50 First Dates, an accident befalls a couple, but whereas, one walks away virtually unscathed, the other, Lucy, suffers a similar brain injury. Lucy’s injury, however, has some differences, such as having a longer ‘videotape’ going through her head.
Moreover, her memory seems to last the whole day, however, when she wakes-up, all of the previous day seems to have been erased. It almost sounds like the opposite of Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. Unfortunately, Lucy’s problem is that her brain, time after time fails to convert short-term memory into long-term during her sleep, which causes her to have a new episode in life every morning. But, unlike the professor, whose memory just records over the previous ones, Lucy is able to retain certain bits of information, just not entirely. Thus, the topic moves into the different genres the movie and the book entail, where the book is nothing but a pure melodrama, the movie seems to be more of a comedy than anything else.
The differences don’t just end there, however. Irrespective of the fact that Lucy is female, while the professor is male, their personalities obviously seem to significantly differ from one another. Being a generic academic, he seems to be greatly fond of mathematics, is a great teacher and exemplifies a person whose nature is completely idealistic considering the fact that he is suffering from a brain injury. Baseball seems to be his favorite sport, based on the fact that it is a game of numbers and statistics, and even goes as far as saying that his favorite player is the one with the #28 on his jersey, which to him seems to be the perfect number. Moreover, the professor, comes off as that guy that is always deep in his trains of thought, in which interruptions just cause him great frustration, most likely due to his inabilities to process certain information. In some ways similar to other intellectuals, however, he comes off as a bit of an eccentric. The style of his clothes, usually unkempt and unclean, just comes to show what condition he’s in. He does change a bit, however, in the presence of his housekeeper’s son, thus, Ogawa tries showing a different side of his personality.
In contrast, Lucy is the average girl: Fashionable, trendy, good-looking and carefree; many don’t realize her problem until they meet her for the second time. Her friends and father seem to care for her enough, being that in such condition it could become hazardous for her. Yet, they do share a common fate. For starters, Lucy is also a teacher; of the arts, but nevertheless they share a common purpose in life. Secondly, they both end up losing their jobs due to the problems that arose from their conditions. The point made in the movie, is more behavioral, contrasting that of the novel. Lucy seems to have different reactions to the same events happening to her throughout her life, while the professor seems to live in a world where he repeats and questions the same things over and over; in essence his behavior and actions are more predictable than that of Lucy’s.
One thing that is obvious when comparing a movie and a novel, is that in one you will use more imagination, whereas in the other most of the details are provided. Taking the movie for example, one witnesses the sounds, sights behaviors, body language, colors, in essence the nature of the set. It gives a certain feel, and in a way does all the thinking for you. Whereas, in the book, the author uses their utmost linguistic talents to describe the characters in detail, thus letting the reader use their imagination very vividly. The movie carries bright images of the surroundings with the sea, the golden sands, animals, colors and decorations. This comes in stark contrast to the myriad of somber colors depicting the life of the professor. The bungalow, in which he lives, seems to have fallen into complete disrepair, and his total lack of care for it seems to be depicted very well by Ogawa. It goes as far as the doorbell being broken and there being no one to take care of the house. The contrasts are temporal in nature as well, due to the fact that Lucy’s case is only about a year since the accident, whereas the professor has been living with his condition for about 25 years.
Although the subject matter of the two works seems to be the same, the conflicts greatly differ throughout the story. The main external conflict in the novel seems to lie on one hand in the relationship of the housekeeper and Root, her son, and on the other, that of the professor and his sister-in-law. The conflict initiates when the housekeeper arrives for duty at his house, the main focal point of the conflict being the barrier of his memory loss and the characters using notes on the body, clothing and direct communication to deal with it. Yet, as was mentioned before, the numbers method seemed to work well for him. He uses them in cases of misunderstandings as well as a way to reach out to the rest of the world. In a way, they become his safe, comfort zone.
In contrast, the movie shows a conflict between Lucy’s condition and Henry, the man in love with her. In using humor, the movie shows a new resolution to the same conflict every day of her life, which, as many couples might say, makes the relationship more exciting and fresh. Similarly to that of the professor’s case, Henry devised a method using a videotape to remind Lucy of the circumstances. Hence, humor plays a role in Lucy’s case, whereas numbers play a role in the professor’s case, thus resolving conflicts and evoking emotional responses from the viewers.
The parallel stories seem to evoke similar emotions in the viewers and readers, yet despite certain obvious similarities, there are differences that are addressed. Segal’s movie deals more with entertainment purposes, whereas Ogawa’s novel is more profound and valuable from the point of view of the plot. The professor’s bleak and almost meaningless life is only shown through numbers. There seems to be no hope for him and that is the nature of the book. 50 First Dates, deals with memory loss in a more comical sense, Lucy is surrounded by many who love her and each day seems to be more of a quirky adventure for her than anything else. Depending on one’s mood, both the novel and the movie seem to be great, just remember that it would be even better to be able to remember both the very next day.
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