4 Movies That Got the Source Material's Point Exactly Wrong

#2. My Fair Lady Ruins the Entire Point of Pygmalion


My Fair Lady is a ... movie about a linguistics professor named Henry Higgins who bets his friend that he can teach low-class Cockney girl Eliza Doolittle to speak in a fancy enough way to convince obnoxious British folk at a party that she's worth talking to (because British people are really judgmental about the way people talk, see). He treats her like shit the entire time while she becomes more and more empowered and capable, until finally ... they fall in love, Higgins resolves to continue treating her like shit forever, and they live happily ever after.

To be fair, women weren't people yet in 1964.

And alright, fine, it's a musical, but if I had told you that up front, you would've stopped reading. Anyway, if that ending seems weird and tacked on, that's because ...

In the Source Material ...

... the end of Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play that My Fair Lady is adapted from, ends with Doolittle leaving Higgins to stew in his own grumpy, cruel juices, because that is the entire goddamn point of the story. Shaw wrote Pygmalion in order to subvert the narrative trope that a male lead always gets the girl. The end of the play is Doolittle walking out the door, setting off as an independent woman to do whatever she balls well wants. It's an ambiguous ending, which is the point: What she actually does is less important than her decision to think and act for herself. It's a great ending, but we all know how well audiences handle that kind of ambiguity.

Warner Bros.
"BWHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT happens after that, though?"

My Fair Lady keeps all the cruelty, bullying, and selfishness, but then absent-mindedly throws the pair of them into a relationship in the last scene. And unlike Star Trek, where they at least waited until Roddenberry was dead to completely subvert the point of the universe he'd created, the actor playing Higgins, Herbert Tree, changed the ending before the end of its first run without consulting the Shaw. The result was a snarky conversation that, I swear to God, had better have actually happened, because it's awesome.

Tree: My ending makes money. You ought to thank me.

Shaw: Your ending is damnable. You ought to be shot.

That's a made-up story if I've ever heard one, but please, everyone, let's just pretend it's not.

#1. The Shining: Jack Is Supposed to Be Sympathetic

Warner Bros.

The secret that makes The Shining the scariest movie ever is the collision of atmosphere and actor. Director Stanley Kubrick revolutionized filmmaking to create a strange, surreal setting, drew you inside it, and then threw a live Jack Nicholson at you, screaming, "What you gonna do now, sucker, Jack Nicholson is all up in your shit!" From the very first scene, we know Jack is unhinged, and every moment he's on camera is another step toward ax-crazy madness.

Warner Bros.
While he brought the entire film crew with him.

But in the Source Material ...

In Stephen King's original novel, Jack is supposed to be a sympathetic character. The core conflict of the story is about how he's trying to be a good person and a good father and love his son but is failing in the face of alcoholism, career anxiety, and a not insignificant number of ghosts. The discomfort comes from King putting his characters in a place where the bonds of love and family aren't strong enough, and this is made worse by the fact that any male reader can see a lot of himself in Jack Torrance.

For comparison, any man who sees part of himself in Jack Nicholson probably already has a bathtub full of body parts in his shed.

Warner Bros.
And all these faces are from before he murders anyone.

In the movie, the only time Jack expresses any sort of love for his son is when he says "I would do anything for him. Any fuckin' thing. I love the little son of a bitch." Then he calls him a "little fucker" and gets angry at recalling the time he drunkenly dislocated his arm. It's not exactly convincing. He's not a guy we want to see redeemed; he's just fucking scary.

In the book, Jack's last act is to kill himself in order to buy his son and wife time to escape from the ghosts possessing his body:

But suddenly his daddy was there, looking at him in mortal agony, and a sorrow so great that Danny's heart flamed within his chest. The mouth drew down in a quivering bow.

"Doc," Jack Torrance said. "Run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you."

It might sound like I'm criticizing Kubrick's movie, but holy hell, I'm not doing that at all. I watch that movie all the goddamn time. But as much as I love it, I can totally see why King hates it so goddamn much: He wrote Jack Torrance as an exploration of his own flaws (King wrote that story right when alcoholism was destroying his life and family, and the character represents the author to a certain degree), but Kubrick turned him into a monster -- years after the fact. That's like someone digging up your LiveJournal and making a coming-of-age teen comedy out of it.


Did Kubrick do this on purpose? I can't say for sure, but in the cacophony of madness that is the documentary Room 237, one theory in particular stuck out as legitimate: In the novel, the Torrances' VW Beetle is red, but in the movie Kubrick makes it yellow. Then, later -- and for seemingly no reason -- he shows us this:

Warner Bros.

A wrecked red VW Beetle. Take that, guy who wrote this book.

Follow JF Sargent on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog, and check out his free sci-fi adventure novel.

Be sure to check out other ways Hollywood can destroy our favorite movies in If 33 Famous Movies Were Made into Trilogies.

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