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:
by Chuck Palahniuk
“And so here is my confession.”
Testing, testing, one, two, three. Tender Branson is the member of a death cult who has been trained to serve others by becoming the ideal butler. When he misses the call to commit suicide, he becomes the last of his kind, falls in love with a psychic, and becomes a cultural/religious icon.
The beauty of Palahniuk’s second novel is that it follows a similar story concept to Fight Club without being Fight Club. All of the same appeal is there – the larger than life, pathetic human being who stumbles into fame and notoriety, the strange love obsession, the social satire. The differences are striking though. Whereas the narrator is embedded in commercial culture in Fight Club, Branson as a main character in “Survivor” is complete unaware of mainstream American culture and works as a catalyst for sharing that vision to a fresh perspective.
Albeit a fresh perspective with major baggage.
It’s also a story that features very clear fantasy elements with Branson’s love Fertility Hollis owning the ability to see the future. Because of it, she’s doomed to loneliness and misunderstanding – the perfect mate for someone obsessed with death but unable to die.
The novel is told in flashbacks as Branson stands in the cockpit of an empty plane he’s hijacked in order to crash-land in the Australian outback – finally committing the suicide his childhood raised him to carry out, now suddenly in the national spotlight.
There are two huge problems with adapting a novel like this, but as with Fight Club (and, to a lesser degree, Choke) we’ve seen where the right combination can handle the first issue of Palahniuk’s writing being overwhelmingly detailed.
The author tosses in hundreds of pieces of information about chemicals, tidbits on how to properly clean a lobster, and several different character quirks that manifest themselves directly into the plotline. Branson is a death cult member, a master butler, a man who pretends to be a suicide line counselor and tells people to kill themselves. All of those details are difficult to juggle – a challenge for whoever adapts it.
The second problem is that no studio wanted to touch a story about a plane hijacker after the events of 9/11. Coming up on nine years later, it’s time to stone up and get to work on adapting the damned thing. But who has the stones?
This very well might be Palahniuk’s best novel. It’s certainly his most scathing and complete in its exploration of pop culture, American religion and commercialism. For some reason, it seems even more correct almost a decade after it was written.
So far, the author’s work has been adapted by Jim Uhls (an unknown at the time) and most recently by Clark Gregg (who also directed Choke). Finding the right author is a difficult task, because the story here lies somewhere in between the cynicism of Fight Club and the sweetness of Choke. It would take a talent that understands the romance and appeal of Palahniuk’s goal with all his novels – to explore people who are looking for a way to connect to other people. The task might just take a pair of talent.
My dream team? Mary Harron (whose adaptation of American Psycho is pitch-perfect) and (hate me while you can) Jason Reitman because of how well he handled adapting Thank You For Smoking – making it a blend of heart and large-scale satire.
The more and more I thought about it after nailing down a pair of writers, the more and more I felt like Mary Harron should also direct. She’s directed several strong character pieces as well as worked on several iconic television programs like “Oz” and “Six Feet Under,” and if you’ve seen American Psycho, you know exactly what she’s capable of delivering onto the screen.
Ah, yes. The core of usual, strange suspects for Palahniuk:
Ryan Gosling as Tender Branson: Gosling is an Oscar nominee and a serious actor who enjoys stretching his talents. He’s shown a lot of the core characteristics of weakness and authority that Branson displays with his turn in Half Nelson. He’s also done strange with Lars and the Real Girl, and if buzz is to be believed, he may garner himself another nomination for his performance in Blue Valentine.
Ryan Gosling as Adam Branson: At first, I wanted to sacrifice the fact that Adam is Tender’s slightly older twin brother because it would place another talented actor on the screen and avoid the possibly awkward look of seeing Gosling vs. Gosling on screen. Then I remembered what they did with Adaptation, and figured What the Hell. It can be done, and if there’s an actor who could go insane in two different ways, I imagine it’s Gosling.
Amy Adams as Fertility Hollis: This casting comes both from my massive crush on her and my desire for her to step way out of her comfort zone. She’s shown promise there with Sunshine Cleaning, but Fertility is a much harder character than Adams has ever played. She’s rough and rigid, but it could be amazing to see Amy Adams channeling Helena Bonham Carter to create some new kind of monster.
Kathy Bates as The Case Worker: In the novel, Tender works with a case worker since he’s a survivor of a death cult. She is a depressed individual that doesn’t quite see the deeper meaning in her job anymore. It’s not the most complex of characters, but Kathy Bates should be cast in everything. I refer to this as the Kathy Bates Rule of Obviousness and invoke it here for good reason.
Aaron Eckhart as The Agent: As Tender rises to fame, he has an agent to explain to him that being fat is no way to be a messiah. At least not in America. Make Eckhart’s Nick Naylor meaner, sleazier, and less smooth and you’ve got a great side character to add to the mix.
Who Owns It:
I had the privilege of interviewing Palahniuk a few years ago, and he told me that I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence was interested in directing an adaptation (an idea that I hate). However, it’s unclear (as most things with Palahniuk are) whether Lawrence owns the option on it. He and screenwriter Albert Torres were reportedly still plowing ahead with it as of the Fall of 2008, but at the rate it’s going, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to see a cinema any time soon. Plenty of time for Lawrence to abandon it and for a better director to take over.
At this point, I have no idea why this movie hasn’t been made. Hollywood returns time and time again to remakes and new adaptations of novels that have already been seen on screen, but they don’t seem to look just to left of those books for even better source material to translate into a new experience.
I fully understand the trepidation in developing a film where the main character hijacks a plane, and there are fresh wounds there with the IRS terrorist who flew a plane into a building here in Austin just yesterday, but part of me will never understand the fear of putting something strong on screen. The story is a brilliant one, and someone out there must have the bravery to do it. If we’ve already seen one of the actual plane hijackings from 9/11 in the form of United 93, isn’t time we end the moratorium of using it as a plot device? I think we’re past it to the point where few will even make the connection between Tender Branson’s long, strange trip and anything from our national history.
Besides, there’s lots more to get pissed off about in this story.