Revenge Gone Wrong: A book and movie comparison of "The Count of Monte Cristo"
By Hannah P.
My introduction to the story of The Count of Monte Cristo was through the 1975 made-for-TV movie starring Richard Chamberlain. While the production quality was low from a Hollywood film standard, the story was well presented. A few weeks later I saw the 2002 movie adaption starring James Caviezel. This film’s production quality was much higher, but its story differed greatly from the book it had been adapted from, the 1844 novel by Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo. The two film adaptations that I have seen detail differently Edmond’s revenge against his enemies and his redemption through the mercy he shows his friends and foes.
In the book, Edmond starts his quest for vengeance determined to make his enemies pay for their false accusation against him of being a Bonapartist traitor. Through Danglars and Fernard Mondego’s false witness and Villefort’s orders Edmond is imprisoned in the Château d’If for fourteen years. After escaping the prison, Edmond discovers and claims the treasure of Monte Cristo. He buys the island on which the treasure was buried and gains the title of Count. Angry and bitter for the years he had spent in prison wrongfully, Edmond plots his revenge against those who had wronged him. He executes his revenge against these men with astute intellect, using his incredible wealth to gain social status and his charm, intelligence and wit to win the admiration and comradeship of his enemies. Once endowed with their trust and regard, Edmond begins to settle the scores. He researches Villefort’s, Mondego’s and Danglars’ pasts thoroughly and uncovers old crimes, unearths forgotten secrets and exposes them for the corrupt men they are. He then brings his enemies to justice, humiliating them completely, driving them to such ends as insanity and suicide. He ruins Danglars by manipulating his financial affairs in the bond market. He exposes Fernard Mondego’s betrayal of an ally, Janina monarch Ali Pasha, during a war for Greek independence, as well as Fernand’s subsequent sale of Ali Pasha’s daughter and wife into slavery. Edmond also reveals an affair that took place years before between Villefort and Danglars’ wife. The affair had resulted in a child, but because Villefort had thought the baby boy stillborn, he had the child buried. However, the boy had been rescued from his grave by an enemy of Villefort’s, and raised under the name Benedetto. Edmond employs Benedetto as a steward and uses him and the circumstances surrounding his birth to humiliate and ruin Villefort.
Although Edmond’s revenge might have been his main focus, his love for family and his friends never waivers. When he discovers that his old employer and friend, Pierre Morrel, has fallen on hard financial times, he buys up all of Morrel’s debts and saves him from bankruptcy and a ruined reputation. Edmond mixes vengeance with mercy, when, after Danglers has repented his crimes against Edmond, releases Danglars from prison and allows him to keep his small remaining fortune. Also, Edmond gives a man who had plotted against him, Caderousse, a chance at redeeming himself by giving him a valuable object to sell. Instead, Caderousse’s greed leads him to commit murder and is sentenced to a life in the galleys. Edmond rescues him and offers him a second chance for redemption.
However, Edmond discovers that all of his actions are intertwined, and the revenge that he enacts on his foes affects his friends as well. Vengeance is ultimately destructive, and the consequences of Edmond’s revenge become more and more apparent as the story progresses. Innocent people are hurt, emotionally devastated and even killed as a result of Edmond’s revenge. Edmond is forced to question his motives, and to count the cost of his retribution. Ultimately he discovers that his revenge is not satisfying, injuring those he had tried to help and driving a wedge between him and his good intentions.
For a faithful adaptation of the book, the 1975 movie version is the best of the two. It follows the book closely, keeping most of the original characters and plot intact. It is also a fun film to watch, clever, witty and engaging. Edmond’s intricate revenge is exciting to watch unfold. His manipulation of certain characters such as Villefort, Danglars and Caderousse displays Edmond’s intelligent preparation and execution of his plans. But in spite of the vengeance portrayed, the moral and lessons of the original story are also preserved. Edmond’s vengeful scheming overpowers the good intent that he has of helping his friends, driving away his former fiancée, Mercedes, eliminating any chance that they could have had to get back together. Edmond’s victory is hollow, for he is left with nothing truly worthwhile in the end, and the only thing that he can take away is the satisfaction of knowing that his enemies have received their comeuppance.
The 2002 movie version of The Count of Monte Cristo is much more lavish and visually interesting than its predecessor. It may not be completely period correct, but it offers plenty of spectacular visuals, from the beautiful French landscapes to the gorgeous clothing at the high society parties. It also shows the different levels of society in that time, from the working class families that Edmond, Mercedes and Danglars come from, to the dark and dirty prison of the Château d’If, and ultimately to the wealthy and extravagant social order of the nobles.
As is often the case with books that contain a large array of characters, many of them were eliminated or altered significantly. The main differences from the novel have to do with relationships between characters. For example, Valentine is shown to be Villefort’s wife in the film, while in the book the character with this name is Villefort’s daughter. In the book Albert Mondego is the son of Fernard and Mercedes Mondego, and is viewed by Edmond as the son that he should have had with Mercedes. In this film he is the son of Mercedes and Edmond, changing a large aspect of the story. Also, the relationship between Edmond and Fernard is changed. In the book, Fernard is only an acquaintance of Edmond and is Mercedes’ cousin; in this film he is Edmond’s best friend. The ending of the film is also very different from the ending of the book. In this film Edmond kills Fernard in a duel (instead of Fernard committing suicide) and ends up regaining the family that he had lost, Mercedes and Albert. This gives Edmond’s revenge a feeling of justification, for in the end Edmond is given what had been denied him before. This is definitely a more satisfying ending, appealing to our desire for fairness, but it doesn’t teach the lesson that victory through vengeance is hollow.
What the 1975 adaption lacks in visual splendor and historical accuracy it makes up for in dramatic entertainment. It stays true to the book and is cleverly adapted. The 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo retains the essence of the book, keeping the basic plot and main characters integral in the film. However, the major character changes and altered ending keep it from being a faithful adaption. The dramatic visuals and beautiful cinematography surpass the 1975 version, and it leaves you with a satisfied feeling, but it doesn’t teach the lessons that the book and 1975 adaption do, for the 2002 version gives the implication that the ends justify the means.
Trusting that all actions, both good and evil, will be repaid in full is hard for a non-Christian to understand. God is the ultimate judge, and He knows best how to attain the justice we all seek. When we take matters into our own hands, the result is that we need to dig two graves: one for our enemies, and one for ourselves. Vengeance destroys, and it can never bring about the closure that we desire. It is all consuming and easily blinds and leads astray, driving those who practice it to destructive ends. Christians can trust that God knows best how to achieve the goals we wish for, and that He will judge each according to their own. He knows our hearts, and will reward godly actions and punish evil ones. For the Lord says in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”
(Formerly published in the Costume Chronicles Webzine - http://www.costumechronicles.com/ - )