As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to. This week, Print to Projector presents:
House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski
“This is not for you.”
A tattoo-enthusiast named Johnny Truant discovers a manuscript in a blind man’s apartment where the man, named Zampano, documents a documentary film about a photographer who settled into a home with his partner and children that seems to be expanding internally but not externally. As Truant’s daily life plays out – mostly in chasing after a stripper – the story of the Navidson family and their ever-expanding house reveals a tale of insanity, claustrophobia, murder and lost identity.
The monumental display of stories and structure being woven together here is something seldom seen in modern literature. Trying to describe it succinctly proves staggering, as it is truly a book that has to be experienced to be believed. The thing is an olio of sources, narrators and references that barely come together to create a tangible plot, but that inch of success is where its genius lies. It’s a true example of Ergodic literature – a form where the reader is forced to actively work to understand what is going on.
In all fairness, despite being experimental, each segment of the novel is put together with incredible clarity. Truant’s story – which appears in the footnotes of the novel – is straightforward but represents a psychological downward spiral parallel to the actual spiral staircase that Will and Tom Navidson travel down into the heart of the cavernous home.
For those who haven’t read the tome (and even many who have probably didn’t scour every references and every note), the main story launches from a new door found upon returning from a family trip. Behind the door is a small closet, but it wasn’t there before. Measurements are taken, and the house appears to be larger inside and out. Will’s partner, former fashion model Karen Green, is incredibly claustrophobic and refuses to explore the oddity, but Will calls upon his estranged brother Tom and an engineer friend named Billy Reston to attempt to explain the impossibility. As they discover even more of the house, including a large anteroom that leads into a great hall, they rely more and more on an adventurer named Holloway Roberts to venture into what might be dangerous territory housing something angry and non-human.
The whole damned thing seems unfilmable. There are really two options here. One sees a production team stripping the story down to its bare essentials in order to tell a fairly basic terror tale of a family haunted by a new doorway in their home. The other sees a brave enough and talented enough production team sharing the spirit of the novel in film form by creating something just as complex, just as difficult to understand, and what might stand as an entry into the realm of Ergodic Film.
Even past the multiple-storylines built on who is reading or watching or commenting on which story, there is the notion of the design of the book which is far from standard. Words that are colored differently, certain paragraphs offset in strange ways, entire pages with single words or sentences on them. Making a film version that stayed true to its tone and life blood would be great. Making a film that could do that while paying homage to the structure of the book would be incendiary.
I still get nightmares:
There is only one human being currently employed as a screenwriter who could take on a project of this type and scale. He is a man that loves playing around with ethics just as much as he loves toying with the Russian Nesting Dolls of formatting and structure. I mentioned him early on in this column for “Special Topics in Calamity Physics,” but that might seem like a walk in the park compared to the hell and back of this challenge. That man is the twisted Charlie Kaufman. With the panic and intricacy of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the confusion of Adaptation, and the literary zooming in and out of Synecdoche, New York, I can think of no other man who has been so clearly conditioned to make the impossible work.
Some may see this as a director’s nightmare. A labyrinthine script that has trouble spotlighting its main focus and jumping back and forth between unconnected storylines like an A.D.D. kid with candy bar stains on his chin, a horror film with emptiness at the core of the fear, and a movie that is sure to alienate no matter who makes it. However, when you wash all of that away, the core of the story is one of man’s vulnerability to madness. If only Kubrick were still alive. There’s a danger here of the director making everything too cerebral. While the novel does it beautifully, there is so much more to play with in the medium of film that would demand more action while the characters remained nuanced. With all of this in mind, the best choice is also the only man to garner 5 Oscar wins: Francis Ford Coppola. He’s done horror, and he’s done descents into madness, but perhaps the strongest draw is that this project would be different than almost anything he’s ever done before. It would be a challenge, but one he’d excel at.
I don’t normally mention a Producer, but J.J. Abrams couldn’t be a bad choice.
Eyes pinned on darkness:
Timothy Olyphant as Will Navidson: Will is a successful man tortured by the way he’s gotten that success. As a photographer, he’s been to many places in the world left devastated by war and famine – those scenes are enough to haunt any man, even one getting a paycheck to document them. His fatal flaw is really one of curiosity and obsession. He’s like every man in mid-life crisis, except his convertible is a spatial impossibility with the potential to consume those who delve too deep. Olyphant shows shades of a classically trained dramatist stuck in a genre cycle, and he’s one of the few actors that can pull off likable and sleazy in the same breath.
Leslie Bibb as Karen Green: Karen is a fashion model living in the next stage of life – the crossroads that a life of compromise finds itself having trouble turning into concrete. She is dedicated too much to her own freedom, and her claustrophobia mirrors that exactly. Physically or emotionally, she cannot handle being closed in. This is the kind of meaty role that Bibb has inside of her just waiting to come out. She’s another talented actress that simply needs a mountain to climb dramatically in order to show that she can reach the top.
Ryan Kwanten as Johnny Truant: Completing the triumvirate of underused talent is the “True Blood” star whose credits are sadly lacking. The television show has proven that he has frantic down to an art form which might be perfect for the addled brain of Truant. The character is essentially average before the task of academically shoveling through a blind man’s notes delivers him to the mouth of madness. Creating footnotes can be so dizzying. Hopefully he can find comfort in the arms of a stripper named Thumper.
M.C. Gainey as Holloway Roberts: There’s a definite M. Emmet Walsh by way of Blood Simple vibe to the edge of Roberts. He’s gruff and exacting which makes him a perfect target for the house and its manipulation. Gainey going all Kurtz on everyone would be a true joy to see.
Mark Z. Danielewski as Tom Navidson: His acting credentials are unknown, but in the interest of self-reflexiveness, him playing a co-starring role would add to the connective tissue between the novel and the movie. It would also finally give him a chance to literally wink directly at fans.
Who Owns It:
There is, as of now, no real information about who owns the film rights. Fans have been dreamcasting on their own for years, though, and teases of shadows of hints of rumors that a film would be made are really only beams of wishful thinking.
Imagine crossing a one-hundred mile desert on your hands and knees with a Volkswagen on your back. That’s about how difficult it would be to get this movie made and to make it well. It would be a cyclopean task with a million to one shot that it could be anything but a tangled mess of pretentiousness. But if the right minds and the right work ethic sat down and took it seriously enough to tell a human story instead of getting bogged down in how intricate it is, the result would be something that at least twelve people would love. And those twelve people or more would have seen a masterpiece.
So it will probably never happen, but at least one wishful thinker out there has turned possibility into a very cool opening credits sequence for the project:
Links provided by Zergnet, which sounds like a villain but is really quite helpful.
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