Eden M. Kennedy

And Zac Ephron as Mario Incandenza

07.14.09 | 61 Comments

While browsing through the forums I was delighted to find the beginnings of a discussion about something that had crossed my mind as I read: would it be possible to make a movie out of Infinite Jest that wasn’t a tragic flop?

User “Good Old Neon” jumped right to the question of who would dare to direct such a thing, and his suggestions tickled me pink: either Wes or Paul Thomas Anderson. I can hear laptops banging shut from coast to coast at the mere suggestion that Wes Anderson be allowed within ten feet of the book, but it’s not a bad idea. Who better to create a reality just a few degrees off from our own, as we see in IJ? I have nothing but love for P.T. Anderson and I’d let him at the script in a heartbeat, but I’d also be afraid that I’d die a lonely old woman before he finished it.

Before we starting casting the Incandenza brothers,31 or discussing the very real film adaptation of another DFW book that is scheduled to be released four days after we all finish reading this one, let’s look at a few non-fatal attempts in the history of cinema to adapt a beloved and word-tastic classic novel to a ruthlessly visual medium.

Ulysses (1967) starring Milo O’Shea; directed by Joseph Strick (who somewhat ironically was fresh from being fired from the set of Justine, an adaptation of a Lawrence Durrell novel; Strick also produced an adaptation of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer — the guy wouldn’t give up on literary sources, god bless him); screenplay adapted by Fred Haines (who was also responsible for an adaptation of Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf). Critical concensus: The screenplay got nominated for an Oscar and the film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, which honors mean both something and nothing. Imdb users seem to agree that what makes the film work is brilliant casting and use of location; it’s when whole swaths of literature are forced out of actors’ mouths that you begin to remember, uncomfortably, that you’re watching a book.

Catch-22 (1970) starring Alan Arkin, directed by Mike Nichols, screenplay adapted from the Joseph Heller novel by Buck Henry. Critical concensus: Nichols et al. did a brilliant job of capturing the essence of the book, and you’re a ninny if you expect a movie to be exactly like the book it’s based on.

Clockwork Orange (1971) starring Malcolm McDowell, directed and screenplay adapted by Stanley Kubrick. That worked out pretty well, if memory serves, though to be fair this and Catch-22 are somewhat thinner and plot-heavier than IJ.

Conclusion: Michael Cera and a locker room filled with gawky teen heartthrobs discussing their exhaustion. Meryl Streep as Madame Psychosis. Soundtrack by Rufus Wainwright? Get Michel Gondry on the phone, right now.