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Page to Screen: The Brass Teapot

Updated on July 24, 2015

Foreword

Tim Macy's The Brass Teapot is largely considered a thriller/horror story, which is fantastic when you realize its cinematic adaptation is a comedy, but doesn't lose any of its original value. While not highly successful, the movie adaptation of The Brass Teapot tells a new story with the previously established themes and adds more creative content all in the same heart.

Movie Poster for The Brass Teapot

Source

The Film

With Tim Macy as the screenwriter for both book and film, the film is largely faithful to the concept but expands on the story proposed. Focused on two different characters but with a not altogether different situation, Alice (Juno Temple) and John (Michael Angarano) are newlyweds, her just out of college without a job, and John being let go. Alice ends up stealing the Brass Teapot (evident ally it called out to her) and they soon discovered its power. In the meantime while they become socialites themselves, they encounter problems with the teapot's original owners as well as their greed. Unlike the short story, the tone of much of the film where the main characters are maiming themselves is lighthearted and amusing.

The film also features actors and actresses such as Alexis Bledel, Alia Shawkat, Bobby Moynihan, Jack McBrayer, and so forth. In truth, when Ramaa Mosley discovered the short story, she and Tim Macy worked together to create a graphic novel before finally completing a film. This was also Ramaa Mosley's first feature film as well, adding to her long career of documentary making.

The Short Story

Personally, I came across this while browsing for short story inspiration in a horror theme. This work isn't very long but creates an ingenious plot. A married couple struggle financially, having splurged after the kids left the house only to keep re-financing them through college as they lose their scholarships, as well suffering hits in their own work places. Then, they get a mysterious teapot that generates money based on pain that occurs around it. The greater the pain, the more money one receives. This leads to self-mutilation until their bodies become almost numb to it, receiving only pennies and nickles for slamming their hands in a cupboard. This is long after they quit both of their jobs. They soon discover that emotional pain works too but they soon run out of secrets they've been holding from each other. Finally, with everything falling apart, they come to realize that inflicting pain on others, specifically killing them, guarantees the biggest payout, and they hatch a plan to buy themselves to Paradise before the story ends.

The short story was published by East of the Web and you can read it here if you'd like.

Photo representing the book

Since it's a short story, it never really has a recognizable cover.
Since it's a short story, it never really has a recognizable cover. | Source

The Adaptation Itself

The film takes the concept from the book and fashions it into something greater, even in a different format.

The Payout of the Brass Teapot
In the film, the Teapot gives a large volume of money, only very rarely dropping in change. This allowed the movie to achieve great heights in visuals with a variety of expensive knickknacks and a mansion for a home. The scope and materials used in the movie created a far greater range than in the short story.

However, there's something significant about the payoff in the short story. Until someone's death, it never quite gives enough money to provide security or relief. Instead, after smashing her own face in with an iron, the wife only gains about $30 after a couple of other painful activities. When going to a restaurant, they're $11 short (before tip), forcing the husband to go into the men's room, punch the wall several times, smash his knee into the counter, and run hot water on his hand for as long as he can hold out just so they can pay the waiter in a large amount of change.

While the film handles the payout with flair and almost giddy amusement, the book handles it with somber relief at best and depressing disappointment at worst.

The Couple's Dynamic
Interestingly, it's the wife that becomes fascinated with the teapot first, the one who begins harming herself first, takes vocal control over the situation, and the first to move to murder in order to get more money. Juno Temple plays this role incredibly well in the film, always pushing her husband to just a little more, just a little more and we'll have enough, before finally proposing to killing a sex offender or a homeless person so that they'd finally be well off.

It's interesting to note that the couple sticks together in both scenarios. While a lot of times money problems cause divorce, they stay together in the book (possibly for their kids in college) and in the film. Furthermore, when it gets to the point of emotional pain (such as telling each other who person A slept with while dating their spouse or the things they think about while in bed), they remain faithful and committed. There's enough time in the film to John and Alice to show chemistry and give a believable impression that they leave each other, but no such evidence in the short story.

The Genre and Ending
From a horror story to a comedy is a huge leap for any adaptation but The Brass Teapot does successfully manage to pull it off. The concept that is the Brass Teapot is not inherently dark depending on perspective. It reimburses you for your pain with financial material. Stub your toe accidentally, get a paper cut, or have an accident like that, and you're reimbursed for your pain. But it's the nature that so obviously becomes abused. By forcefully committing someone to pain you get paid.

In the short story the Brass Teapot is nothing more than a tool. However, it's been given a little bit more of a personality in the film. When it's first introduced it calls out to Alice, beckoning her to steal it to be used by the innocent, rather than the Jewish family that is at least aware of its negative properties and effects. It becomes a tool dangerous enough that there is something of a cult created in order to rid the world of it.

The film does a good job of putting on a much happier tone when Alice and John think of ways to make money. A lot of this is attributed between the chemistry between Temple (who's very good at portraying a younger-looking, playful girl who surprises you with more hidden streaks of personality) and Angarano's pitiable charisma.

However, it's the ending that really changes the feel of the plot. In the short story, you're left as the couple plans on killing everyone in the neighborhood to make enough money from the teapot to ascend into something of a carefree life, leaving everything, including morality, behind. With the film, the couple eventually comes to a decision to leave it behind, only for more shenanigans to ensue but eventually the Teapot is delivered to the right person to get rid of it.

Trailer for The Brass Teapot

Closing Thoughts

Few adaptations can take the heart of an established story and adapt it into a new medium with a completely different story, only with the same theme and elements. The Brass Teapot does this as well as establishing a bit more of a concrete world surrounding the titular device. It's no blockbuster, but more of a pleasant treat to enjoy on a Netflix night or whatnot.

Still, there's the question of changing the genre. Was it due to the connection Angarano and Temple brought to the film that it became decidedly more light-hearted (Temple can be a villain, but can one properly imagine Angarano doing the same)? Surely the story could have been retold, watching a slow spiral of a couple succumbing to the temptation of the teapot, watching them start in a dismal and depressing situation and leaving morality behind completely. Nevertheless, this adaptation serves the original story well and in my opinion, both are worthy of experiencing.

Book vs. Movie

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

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Further Reading

You can read more Page to Screen adaptation commentaries if you click here.

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