Several students have asked me what an A or A+ journal entry looks like. I’ve already posted two A entries, but I now have had three A+ entries, so I post one here, with the author’s permission. Notice how specific this entry is, and how much material it finds in what appears to be a very simple difference between novel and film. I have silently made a few changes to terminology and formatting, but otherwise the piece is un-edited. Thanks to the student for this altruistic submission:
In looking at the very opening scenes from P.D. James’s novel The Children of Men and Alfonso Cuaron’s film Children of Men, I noticed that both mediums use Theo as the focalizer, but in very different, maybe even opposite, ways. Although both film and novel begin with the death of Baby Diego/Joseph Ricardo, he is only a symbol, and the focalization is meant to be on Theo, specifically Theo as a character who is disaffected by what society has become.
I would like to argue that the opening of the film and the novel are structured in fundamentally different ways, yet they achieve the same thing. In the film, the first shot is a blank screen where news reporters read daily headlines, rife with war and cultural disputes. The “lead story” that day is the death of Baby Diego and the scene opens on a coffee shop filled with people looking at the TV to see the news. It is then that Theo Faron, the film’s protagonist pushes his way into the shop to buy a coffee. Through these first opening shots I propose that the structure of the opening is seen as such:
In the film, Theo must push his way into the foreground, and his perspective is not shared by the others around him; his gaze is focused forward on the counter where all of the others gaze fixedly upwards towards the TV monitor.
In the opening pages of the novel, we first hear of Joseph Ricardo’s death, then learn that it was “the last item mentioned”. It isn’t until after Joseph Ricardo’s death is mentioned that Theo reveals that he is sitting down to begin a diary. Once we realize that this is actually beginning in Theo’s first-person perspective, we must recalibrate our idea of what the story actually begins with. Because the opening is filtered directly through Theo’s perspective I would argue that Theo’s “entrance” in the scene is first and foremost in the scene’s structure, not Joseph Ricardo’s death. Thus, the structure of the novel’s opening would look like a mirror image to the opening of the film:
The common point between the two structures is the placement of Baby Diego/Joseph Ricardo’s death between Theo’s perspective and other news stories. Because of this one might suggest that this is the central point of the opening scenes/pages but I think that in both cases the story of Baby Diego/Joseph Ricardo is only a symbol, used to highlight Theo and his remove from and disdain with society. In both film and novel Theo’s reception of the news is incidental; he is simply going to get coffee in the film when he is forced to acknowledge the news screen, in the novel he hears the news by chance and, further, he had already decided to begin his diary prior to hearing the news.
Even though the structures are opposite, they achieve the same effect, making Theo our focalizer and highlighting his disillusion with society. In the film, as Theo leaves the coffee shop the camera follows him out and pans around him as he pours alcohol into his coffee cup—here the film is mimicking the novel’s sneaky inclusion of Theo as the focalizer. In the novel, as I have mentioned, the structure appears to begin with Joseph Ricardo’s death but then we realize that Theo is writing a diary and, thus, it has been presented through his perspective the whole time. The film achieves a similar effect: beginning with Baby Diego, it appears that the focus is on his news story. However, as Theo leaves the coffee shop where Baby Diego was the focus, the camera not only follows him out but continues to circulate around him, literally showing that he is the center of our attention.