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.
One of the three cornerstones of Holocaust literature still hasn’t seen the big screen for an adaptation. In a way, it’s understandable. No one can even agree on whether the book is a memoir, a fiction, a fictional memoir, or a true memoir with fictional elements – so making its way to the screen would be a difficult task.
On the other hand, this book is so well recognized (Oprah even loves it), that it seems blatantly obvious that a movie version would be both financially successful and garner critical Hallelujahs if done with any sort of skill at all.
If you put the right pieces together, the puzzle makes for an astonishing picture.
By Elie Wiesel
“They called him Moishe the Beadle, as if his entire life he had never had a surname.”
Elie Wiesel’s “Night” is a triumph of storytelling that was born from the worst possible circumstances. It’s the literary equivalent of a man clenching his fists until the blood leaves them completely. In just over one hundred pages, Wiesel shakes those fists at God, at humanity, and at himself.
For those tragically unaware of the book, “Night” is a first-person, poetic historical account of growing up in a small town in Transylvania just before the Nazis began their pogroms. It leads the reader through the incremental theft of the Jewish civility in the ghettos which is then loaded onto cattle cars and deposited in the death camp of Auschwitz. It then focuses on life in the death camp, the resulting death march, and the transfers that ultimately lead them to Buchenwald and eventual liberation.
It’s a triumph of minimalism and a soul trampling story that we know all too well and yet not well enough.
There is an argument here to say that a movie version of Night misses the era where films about the Holocaust thrived, and that same argument leads to the reality that there are more than a few films covering this subject matter. However, there can never be enough movies covering this subject matter, and “Night” is celebrated rightly because it is one of the most achingly beautiful re-tellings of Hell of earth. It’s amazing that it hasn’t been adapted yet.
Elie Wiesel at Buchenwald. Bottom row, fourth from the left.
Directing: The key is to find a mind that can bring the horror into focus without leaving it there. It’s a terrible tale, but it’s also a vibrant one. There are a handful of names that could do the movie justice, but John Cameron Mitchell (the director of Rabbit Hole and Hedwig) seems the surest bet for delivering the complexity of joy and intense sorrow that this story demands.
Writing: Again, this will take a delicate hand that knows when to be forceful. It’s a story ultimately about doubt, about identity crisis, and about a world where there’s no solid ethical ground because everything has spun 180 degrees. Someone like Henry Bean (The Believer) would be a good candidate, but the story doesn’t have the edge he works well with. In searching for a great writer, one name kept randomly popping up even though I had dismissed it at first: Bill Condon. He shows an incredible range in his work (Gods and Monsters to Chicago), but he above all else understands keeping complexity in its proper context. A version of Night written by Condon would undoubtedly be filled with moments of joy tucked away inside the despair.
Starring: A complete cast of unknowns. I know, this seems unfair (or like I’m being lazy). However, even with a certain amount of talent out there who could fill the roles of Eliezer, Moishe, and Schlomo, this film’s true star is its subject matter and adaptation source. There would be a certain risk in placing any known entity within the confines of something so iconic. On the other hand, if made in the same vein as Schindler’s List, it could be a vehicle for a strong actor ready to take a stab at winning an Oscar.
Who Owns It:
Elie Wiesel currently owns the movie rights for the book. It’s unclear whether he’s never been approached about a film version or whether he’s simply always refused.
There’s a fine line to walk here. Several in fact. “Night” deals with intensely personal subject matter that happens to resonate with deafening force in our cultural memory. Doing that sort of thing justice is always a challenge.
Plus, it would take a team of filmmakers who were all incredibly and subtly talented who were also unafraid of the story. Bravely facing it would be the price to pay for sending something of great importance out into theaters.
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