my sisters keeper book movie comparison

My Sister’s Keeper

Book | Author: Jodi Picoult | Published: 2004My Sister's Keeper Book Cover

Director: Nick Cassavetes | Released June 2009
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Abigaail Breslin, Joan Cusack

Jodi Picoult certainly knows how to tug at your heart strings with medical dramas surrounding children, and the choices that parents must make. In both the written and on-screen versions of My Sister’s Keeper, you find yourself asking “What would I do?” If you’re looking for an answer, however, you’ll find the answer quite different between the two telling.

My Sister’s Keeper is the story of Anna, her dying sister Kate, and the decision that may kill them.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Picoult’s novel is told from multiple points of view, including the over-protective mother (Sara) the rebellious brother (Jesse) and the semi-scumbaggy lawyer who handles Anna’s case (Campbell Alexander). As reading, I questioned how Cassavetes would be able to carry this over into the film, as it was often hard enough to follow through the novel format. The answer was simple: He reduced the number of characters, and dismissed most of their inner dialogue. ¬†Instead, he walked through their stories as Kate paged through her memory book.

In this new format, characters are shallow shadows of the multiple stories that Picoult weaves. Older brother Jesse morphs from a trouble-seeking pyro living over the garage in the book to a silent artistic type who hangs out on the wrong side of the tracks in the movie. Whether Evan Ellingson (who plays Jesse on-screen) had the chops to play the harder version of Jesse, we’ll never know.

There’s also the seemingly small issue of Julia, the guardian ad litem appointed to research Anna’s situation and make a recommendation to the judge regarding Anna’s plea for medical emancipation. Her role, including a rekindled relationship with Campbell, provides more insight into each member of the family as she interviews each of them to uncover the effects that Anna’s illness has had on the family. Perhaps she was too hard to cast, or trying to weave a love interest for Campbell was too much for Cassvetes – either way, the entire character and story line erased as easily as if they’d never existed.

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

As with nearly any film, there has to be an element of romance. Since the romance between Campbell and Julia (above) was dismissed, a smaller relationship was brought to center screen: that between Trevor and Kate. The Romeo & Juliet story between the cancer-stricken teens provided plenty of tearful moments on-screen, as he held her while she was sick from chemo, her transformation for the hospital prom, and her eventual despair at his quick death. A mere side-story in the book, this became a central relationship to the movie. As Kate spoke to Anna about her life, and impending death, she indicated that she wasn’t afraid because maybe Trevor would be on the other side, waiting for her.

The other relationship that changed was that between Brian and Sara. The relationship would obviously be strained after 13 years of struggling with one child’s illness; but in the book you can feel the underlying love that has held the family together. Sara is harried and Brian escapes to the firehouse, but at the end of the day, there is love. Their film relationship slips farther apart in the movie, when Sara threatens to divorce Brian for taking Kate to the beach. He has simply had enough of her controlling and meddling and saving – he wants to be able to just live with Kate for the time she has left.

Staring Death in the Face

The most moving moments in the movie couldn’t adequately be captured on paper: Kate’s deterioration due to kidney failure. ¬†Her portrayer, Sofia Vassilieva, was a beautiful young woman, dying of a terrible disease. Through the extraordinary work of the make-up artists, she lost her hair, her weight, and eventually it seemed obvious that she was on the brink of death. The most stunning was her eyes – as her kidneys failed, the toxins built up around her eyes, clouding their color. In Kate’s closing scenes, the increased translucency of her skin combined with the destruction of her eyes provided unforgettable images.

The endings between the two are strikingly different – while both culminate in a death, Picoult and Cassavetes take different turns. In either version, it’s a new twist on “what would I do?”

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