- Books, Literature, and Writing
Media/Book Comparison of The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Which version is best: the Book or the Movie?
So we all know that a film version of a novel hardly includes all of the story lines and intimate moments. But what details should never be excluded? How significantly does the story change when even small details are omitted for the film? What if the director and the author are the same person? Does that mean that the two versions should be very similar, or does it mean that the author has a second chance to envision the story in a different format? How much drama can a film include without becoming somber? When dealing with young adult fiction, which version is more appropriate: the novel with heavy conflict, or the lighter hearted feel good film?
These are questions I've tried to answer after first rereading "Perks", at age 23 opposed to age 16, and then watching the 2012 movie version.
Understanding My Approach
and why "Perks"?
I always always always start by reading a book first (whenever possible). I believe that books tend to be saturated in more detail, but if you already know the major plot points from having viewed the film version first, you may feel tempted to skim over some artful moments made by the author. I also believe that by knowing the characters of a book more thoroughly you can appreciate the way an actor decides to portray them. By reading the book first you're more "in the know" as far as taking away as much as you can from a movie. You may be able to pick up on when there is a slight reference of something that was elaborated in the book.
I chose The Perks of Being a Wallflower because it was a book that I read in high school that made me feel "normal" for having skeletons in my closet and dealing with life as a teenager. When the motion picture came out a year ago I was tempted to go see it (especially because Emma Watson aka Hermoine was cast as Sam!), but I really wanted to read the book again to have the details fresh in my head. Well then life happened and I didn't have a chance to read the book, nor see the movie and sort of forgot about it. Then I was assigned a Book/Media Comparison project for a class and I said to myself, "What luck! I can do something I've been wanting to, AND GET CREDIT!" So I started by rereading the book because it had been about seven years since I had, and then I watched the movie. I am very glad that I reread it first because I had another profound experience. The movie was enjoyable, but lacked some of the defining details (ones that I didn't see as a time issue as much as selling out to the masses), but I'll get into those later. Overall I thought the movie was a beautiful PG13 coming of age movie, but it didn't cause me to have any sort of catharsis. However the book version did cause a release of emotions; not only the first time, but the second time as well.
Brief Summary (of the novel)
The year is 1991 and the setting is middle class suburbia. Coping with the suicide of his best friend Michael, the story's protagonist, Charlie, writes letters to an anonymous recipient in order to discuss pressing issues occurring in his life. The story begins when Charlie is entering his freshman year of high school, and at the beginning of the year he has no friends and sits alone at lunch.
In his shop class, however, is a senior named Patrick (who also has the unwanted nickname "Nothing") who is funny and confident. At a football game (Charlie's brother who is a freshman at Penn State was a football star), Charlie approaches Patrick and meets his step-sister Sam and they are accepting of Charlie and they take him under their wings. Charlie starts to have feelings for Sam, but is sure that she is too old for him so is hesitant to tell her. Charlie is introduced to their close group of friends whom he eventually becomes close with as well: Bob, Mary Elizabeth and Alice and eventually Sam's boyfriend Craig. Charlie also finds out that his new friend Patrick is gay and his boyfriend is Brad, a senior on the football team.
While describing in his letters his new experiences with his new high school friends, Charlie also intertwines dysfunctional family moments both past and present. Physical and sexual abuse are a part of both of his parent's upbringing. Charlie's tumultuous relationship with his older sister, (named Candace in the film), seems to intensify after Charlie sees his sister's boyfriend hit her. Charlie also walks in on her sister having sex and provides transportation and support after she decides to get an abortion upon becoming pregnant. Throughout the story Charlie's sister appears to be dynamic as well because she becomes less self centered and more approachable to Charlie.
Another significant person in Charlie's life proves to be his advanced English teacher, Mr. Anderson, or Bill. Mr. Anderson is in his first year of teaching. He gives Charlie additional novels (many classic titles) to read and report on, and the books become markers of time and character changes throughout the year. Symbolically, the themes of the books reflect what Charlie is going through as well. Bill invites Charlie over to meet his girlfriend and develops a friendship with him beyond just a teacher/student relationship. Bill, at the end of the year, tells Charlie that he is one of the smartest people Mr. Anderson knows.
Charlie is also dealing with memories of his Aunt Helen who died in a car crash on Charlie's birthday, which is also Christmas Eve. It is implied that Charlie had a special relationship with his Aunt, in which she molested him. After a sexual encounter with Sam, Charlie has a mental breakdown that lands him in a psych ward. He had previously been seeing a psychiatrist who was prodding into his past and asking him questions that made him feel uncomfortable. Charlie spends his summer after his freshman year (also the summer before all of his friends leave for college) in a mental hospital. The story ends with Charlie having an emotional experience of release with Sam and Patrick when he stands in the bed of Sam's pickup truck and simulates flying while Patrick drives.
that are quintessential to the plot
1. The Letter Format
In both the movie and the novel Charlie is writing to an anonymous person (that is never revealed). In the book Charlie is actually physically mailing the letters, although it isn't as clear in the movie. The letter format reads like a diary but allows for the audience to question and guess: who is on the receiving end? It is also evident that Charlie is becoming a better writer though Chbosky's use of style by increasing the sophistication of Charlie's sentences and ideas.
2. Soundtrack & Mixtapes
The word "mixtape" is pretty much obsolete because of the introduction of the CD (except to music artists trying to catch a break), so I find it refreshing that the movie remained loyal to the form. Both the book and the movie include the exchange of mixtapes between Candace's boyfriend to Candace to Charlie, and from Charlie to Sam and Sam to Charlie. The music that is mentioned in the book was something that stood out to me when I originally read it because I too listened to Pink Floyd, the Smashing Pumpkins, Simon and Garfunkle and the Beatles. The movie featured the original music mentioned in the novel, as they should have.
3. Rocky Horror Picture Show
The interactive theatre show was a phenomenon in the 90s and also one of the comic features of Chbosky's novel. When reading about Charlie playing Rocky (whose costume is just gold booty shorts, tube socks and sneakers )I was laughing out loud. This is one element that I can totally appreciate the movie's adaptation of because Ezra Miller who played Patrick also made a brilliant Dr. Frank N Furter. I am a true fan of the 1975 film of Rocky Horror, and even saw the play when I was in high school and learned some of the audience participation lines with a friend of mine. If you've never seen it, and you're a fan of "Perks" I believe that you're missing out on a great reference. It also puts you in a setting, which wasn't relatively too long ago, in which people didn't have such an obsession with TV, computers and other technological luxuries and actually would see the same play EVERY weekend.
4. Experimentation with drugs
So I'm still a little baffled as to why the movie version left out the f-word when Sam uses it after Charlie shocks the group of friends by kissing Sam instead of his girlfriend Mary Elizabeth when he was dared to kiss the most beautiful girl in the room (changing it to "What the hell is wrong with you?"). The movie also left out the chain smoking of the characters, but still included the accidental consumption of a pot brownie by Charlie and the very intentional experimentation with LSD. Maybe Charlie's drug use is a major part of him growing up while the other two controversies are details that don't significantly alter the story line. Anyway, right on! This is another way that teenagers are attracted to Chbosky's writing and it definitely satisfies a curiosity.
5. Memorable quotes
"I feel infinite" and "We accept the love we think we deserve"
Even though a lot of the script is based off direct lines from the novel, these two lines were pivotal to Charlie's character. Both lines appear at more then one location of the novel and because of the repetition and being delivered by Charlie you can see how he eventually starts believe in the authenticity of the lines as well.
Differences in Details
Major and Minor
1. Michael's suicide
Book: The beginning of the book explains that Michael was Charlie's best friend and had shot himself in the 8th grade. When Charlie is writing letters, it is apparent that he has no one his own age that he feels he can talk to.
Movie: At the beginning of the movie Michael's suicide is a mystery and doesn't reveal itself until a party at Bob's house after the homecoming dance. This adds suspense and also allows the audience to examine Charlie's character retrospectively and make sense of some of the behaviors and interactions that Charlie has.
2. Derek- Candace's boyfriend is a minor character but has a major impact on Charlie and his family.
Book: Dad originally likes Derek.
"My dad said this boy as becoming a fine young man who could cary himself" (12). This seems like a major point because Dad was physically abused by his mother's boyfriend and saw his mother hit a lot as well. So when Derek hits Candace it carries even more weight because of the history of domestic abuse within the family.
Movie: Dad is mean to Derek.
For the sake of the film, maybe this was done in order to stitch together some of the plot points that, because of time restraints, weren't mentioned. Regardless, I noticed that Candace's boyfriend was depicted in the film as a cliched loser boyfriend that a dad doesn't want to see her daughter with.
3. The first truck drive with Sam and Patrick
Book: Charlie is sitting in the middle of Sam and Patrick when they're on their way to Bob's party after homecoming and this is the moment (one of my favorites in the books) where Charlie says, "I feel infinite" (MTV paperback edition, 33).
Movie: Sam is sitting in the middle and Charlie is sitting in the passenger's seat. This to me changes the dynamics of the moment because he isn't physically between his two new best friends, but on the outside. Some people may have overlooked this detail, but to me it's a major misrepresentation.
4. Sam's song
Book: Black Bird- The Beatles
Movie: Pearly Dew Drops Drop- Cocteau Twins
5. Sam's first kiss
Book: Sam's first kiss is from dad's friend when she was 7 (clearly an instance of molestation). I believe that Charlie was around the same age when his aunt Helen died, and allegedly molested Charlie, so this is a connection between the two character's past.
Movie: Sam's first kiss is from Sam's Dad's boss when she's 11. Okay, so this is still very inappropriate, but it seems less extreme then an adult kissing a 7 year old, although a child is a child regardless of their age.
6. Charlie's sensitivity
Book: It seems that in the book Charlie cries, a lot. That is one of the qualities of his character that is sort of taboo but at the same time relatable.
Movie: Charlie barely ever cries, I think his eyes get moist at various emotional climaxes (maybe), but no full on crying like in the book.
7. Charlie's Birthday
Book: Sam and Patrick do not acknowledge Charlie's birthday which is salt in his wounds from dealing with an already very traumatic day.
Movie: Sam and Patrick acknowledge Charlie's birthday. Maybe this is in order to keep the climactic moments distinctive in the film.
8. Mr. Anderson
Book: Mr. Anderson seems vulnerable in giving Charlie extra reading with essays, and then he is a harsh grader on the essays, but he doesn't allow it to affect Charlie's grade in class. It almost seems that Mr. Anderson is using Charlie to gain confidence as a teacher, but then he realizes that Charlie is also greatly benefiting and quite capable of accomplishing the extra work.
Also in the book, Mr. Anderson admits that he assigned Charlie to read The Fountainhead after he went through a breakup with his girlfriend and apologizes for letting his personal life get in the way of his professional life. Then Mr. Anderson invites Charlie over his house towards the end of the year to meet his girlfriend who seems to have heard a lot of good things about Charlie. This makes the relationship between Charlie and Mr. Anderson more personal.
Movie: Mr. Anderson is married. I think that this gives him, in some ways, a more assertive and self discovered persona. I think there's a lot to be said in the book about his lack of commitment, especially because he is saying that he is going to leave the world of teaching to write plays in New York City. Also beyond the classroom there doesn't seem to be any relationship between Charlie and Mr. Anderson in the film. Maybe there wasn't enough screen time to serve justice to the dynamic between these two characters.
9. After the LSD trip
Book: It doesn't surprise Charlie's family that he was found sleeping under a tree in the winter because he has had similar psychotic episodes in the past. They don't even think to ask him if he had taken any drugs because it was typically Charlie behavior.
Movie: When Charlie lands in the hospital after passing out under a tree his family the police question him as to what went on at the party. Nothing was mentioned about how this sort of thing had happened before.
10. Smoking cigarettes
Book: Sam and Patrick turn Charlie onto smoking. They smoke at lunch, they smoke at parties, they smoke EVERYWHERE (Charlie's guidance councilor even allows Charlie to smoke in his office at school). I think this helps create the authenticity to the atmosphere of taking place in the 90s. This also is a way that Charlie seems to calm himself down from the craziness that surrounds him.
Movie: No smoking. I get it, the movie was released in 2012 and would have created a lot of controversy for being a major motion picture that portrays teenagers smoking. I feel that it shouldn't have been omitted completely and that they should have all shared a smoke to pay homage to the novel.
What plot lines are omitted for the Motion Picture?
And Chbosky's justification for making the cuts
1. Charlie passively witnessing a rape
Charlie's older brother throws a high school party when Charlie is still in middle school. His sister was a freshman and his brother a junior. They both tell Charlie to stay in his room and they will bring him anything he needs. Charlie listens, but apparently a couple enters his room and starts to fool around. They see Charlie and the girl wishes to stop but the boy says that the kid won't mind, and Charlie doesn't do anything but watch. The girl is saying "no", but still proceeding to fool around with the boy because she is so drunk. Years later Charlie is telling Sam and Patrick and realizes that he witnessed a rape. The boy is still in the school, so Charlie decides to have his own form of revenge by slashing his tires. This is just another memory that adds to the sexual trauma of Charlie.
Charlie has a memory of watching the season finale of M*A*S*H with his two older siblings and his mother and father when he was young. His dad had excused himself to go into the kitchen and Charlie saw him crying. This is very out of character for his father so his dad asks Charlie to keep it their secret, and he does. When Charlie is Christmas shopping when he's fifteen he is at a loss of what to get his father, so he gets him a copy of the season finale of M*A*S*H.
3. Family encounters (Thanksgiving & Christmas)
At Thanksgiving, Charlie's family visits his mother's side of the family and it is a very familiar scene. There's fighting and stories, misbehaved cousins and a lot of awkward moments. On the way over Charlie's older siblings are fighting and Charlie is allowed to drive so dad can between them. Even though he pushes his sister's buttons, Charlie's older brother possesses an adult quality because he is the only one that can reason with Grandpa. You also see why it is such a big deal that Charlie's sister's boyfriend hit her because there is a history of abuse that Grandpa is not ashamed to admit.
During Christmas break Charlie and his family visit dad's side of the family. This is where Charlie tells about his dad's mother always picking abusive boyfriends after her husband, Charlie's grandpa passed away. Charlie's aunt on his dad's side is a new age version of her mother because she also picks the wrong guys and Charlie can see why his father needed to get away.
4. Charlie's sister's pregnancy
In the book Charlie's older sister gets pregnant by the boy that hit her and when she tells him, he says it's not his. So she decides to ask Charlie to keep her secret and to help her with transportation if she gets an abortion; which she does and he does. They lie to their parents and say they were at a movie, but really Charlie acted maturely and honorably as far as helping his sister.
5. The poem
Michael gave Charlie a poem which Charlie decides to share with his new group of friends. It is unclear whether the poem was supposed to have been written by Michael as a sort of suicide note, but it is profound. During the commentary in the deleted scenes on the DVD of the movie version, Stephen Chbosky tells about how he read it in a pamphlet and found out after he published it in perks that the author was still alive and his name is Dr. Earl Room who is a psychiatrist in the Colorado School System.
The reason for not including Charlie's older sister's pregnancy, or giving too many details about Michael's suicide was explained by Chbosky it was "too emotionally intense" for film. He also says, "in movies there is only room for one ghost" and he chose to emphasize the fact that Charlie was having psychotic episodes because of repressed memories of his Aunt Helen molesting him. Chbosky didn't want to "tip the scale to somber" and explains that "the novelist brain and the filmmaker brain are different"
Character changes from novel to film
based on my own interpretations
Charlie- He was less emotional and more confident in the movie then in the novel. I also thought that Charlie was more dynamic in the novel because of his release of emotions.
Sam- The character in the book struck me as more of a happy person. Emma Watson depicted Sam as loving, but sort of serious and somber at times which I liked.
Patrick- I thought that when Patrick is going through a hard time after him and Brad are caught by Brad's dad that Ezra Miller portrayed his ups and downs very well. I sensed in the movie that at this time Patrick was vulnerable and hurting.
Charlie's sister (Candace)- She's way less moody in the movie then in the novel. Maybe because the scenes that depict her in a tantrum have been omitted for the movie.
Aunt Helen- It is more clear in the movie that Helen molested Charlie.
Bill Anderson- Paul Rudd depicted Mr. Anderson in a sort of flat way. I was kind of let down that he didn't let you into the emotions of the teacher more. His advice seemed like it was coming from an adult rather then a friend.
Mary Elizabeth- I pictured her more zen and less punk, but I think the Mae Whitman portrayed her trendy, bossy, vulnerability wonderfully.
Alice- Did I miss that she's blonde? I pictured her to look more like Wednesday Adams.
Bob- Stoner Bob, well done.
Brad- I thought that the movie portrayal served the novel character justice. Brad in the film was confident, yet secretive and when he thanks Charlie for stopping the fight it seemed as genuine as I imagined it.
Craig- I pictured Craig taller.
My two cents
... should teens have the choice when it comes to watching a movie version of a book instead of reading?
The novel and movie versions of The Perks of Being a Wallflower are not one in the same. If I had to recommend a version it would definitely be the novel because of the controversial themes it deals with that the movie omits. With some of the very dated texts, I think that movie versions can bring them into the 21st century. However, where this story's setting is relatively recent, I don't think that the movie is adequate to clarifying the story (if anything it shortens it and is edited to appeal to a broader audience).
Where this novel is probably used for free reading (although I think it can be integrated into the curriculum), I think that if a student wants to cheat themselves out of getting the full experience by only watching the movie I think it's their prerogative. But if a teacher is wishing to use this for it's themes, style, and literary motifs I think that the novel is a more effective choice.
If a student argues in favor of watching the movie instead of reading the book for "Perks" I would have to tell them that the content in the book is way heavier (teens love juiciness). I also believe that because the book includes Charlie being a writer, and is written in letter format, and there is a typewriter mention, and the classic novels that are alluded to: I think that Chbosky intended for his story to be read. Sometimes it's good for the soul to read a full novel when today's youth is used to reading things in flashes and watching motion pictures.
and I say, "Good day!"
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply profound coming of age story that contains the power to convince young people to read. It deals with love, family, trauma, and the cliche of sex, drugs, and rock n' roll. If you don't agree, I invite you to leave comments. Also if you have any advice, corrections, or comments for my lens I would love to hear from all of you!
Thanks for reading,
Author and Director: Stephen Chbosky
Chbosky, Stephen. (1999). The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery Books.
Chbosky, Stephen. (Director & Producer). (2012) The Perks of Being a Wallflower [Motion Picture]. United States.
Motion Picture or Film Version?
When it comes to new literacies, should movies be considered as options to teach novels?
Asleep - The Smiths
Find Chbosky's film and novel
Be the judge. Read the novel. Watch the film.