Of Mice and Men, directed by Gary Sinise, is a four star movie compared to the book, written by John Steinbeck in 1937. The movie was produced 55 years later in 1992, yet still captures the faithful companionship between George and Lennie. Sinise also manages to depict Steinbeck’s main themes and develops the characters almost up to the same level.
The first difference I would like to explain to prospective audiences is how director Gary Sinise adapts the movie Of Mice and Men to viewers’ preferences and excludes John Steinbeck’s literary sense and purpose.
For example, Steinbeck starts the novel with a scene after they have run away from a ranch because of a mishap with Lennie accidentally harassing a woman. Sinise begins with the scene just before- when Lennie and George are actually running away from the ranch owners, equipped with horses and dogs, to save their lives. The working scenes have been lengthened to show the audience the exhausting labor of the ranch hands.
It is “dumb-proofed” for the viewers in order to keep them interested and attached to the film.
The aspects of filming, of course, differ from the aspects of the imagination. Gary Sinise must use his own imagination and construct those images into reality on film. He has to cast the actors according to skill and appearance, develop scenes to suit the common people’s taste, he must worry about costumes, makeup, shooting, sets, set changes, time spans… and the most stressful of them all, working with other people to illustrate his view of Of Mice and Men.
One can’t be too harsh in critiquing a movie when its predecessor is a novel by John Steinbeck. There can be, naturally, absolutely no comparison to the human imagination, but Sinise does it with only a few imperfections and adjustments to the plot. Let me commence with Sinise’s choice of casting. Lennie, played by John Malkovich, maintains the childlike, simple character Steinbeck creates in his novel. Other film critics might disagree with me, but I believe that Malkovich was entirely convincing throughout his performance.
George, played by Gary Sinise himself (and I must say that he must be partially “self-satisfied” to cast himself) was a confusing actor at times, changing his relationship to Lennie on several different occasions. He is, on one hand, very harsh towards Lennie and tells him what to do and what not to do, basically being domineering. On the other hand, however, George seems to be very compassionate and caring in his relationship with Lennie. Honestly, I was confused. Does George really want Lennie around, or is he just loyal to his promise to Lennie’s aunt, Clara? Who is George? Hopefully you can comprehend this sporadic behavior, because I certainly have not. An example of this is when George cleans the blood off of Lennie’s face after a fight- his movements are gentle and kind, whereas when George forces Lennie to stay at the ranch while ‘the guys’ go out for a drink. His attitudes in these two incidents are totally opposing each other.
At least in Steinbeck’s book it was clear that although George was officious, he loved him. George’s annoyance is weaker than his profound unity and one-ness with him. Curley’s wife is described as a very racist, harmful, flirtatious person, who is all too aware of her power and consequently abuses it. For example, she threatens an innocent Crooks, “‘Listen, Nigger,’ she said, ‘You know what I can do to you if you open your trap?'”1 Sinise’s depiction of her in the movie, however, is not as despicable. She holds a pitiable role and always is portrayed as the victim. The audience begins to sympathize with her, although, in the book, she was the one to initiate all the trouble.
Curley’s wife, in the novel, abused Lennie’s stupidity and the fact that he was fascinated by her- Sinise shows the opposite in the movie, because he represents her attraction to Lennie as one of friendship. Sinise also had to think about the skill of his actors. It seemed as though Sinise chose the actors well, because they fundamentally illustrated the feelings of the director and how he wanted to have the characters form relationships and emotions. Although the casting and level of skill was satisfactory, Sinise sometimes made scenes too extensive and irrelevant to the topic of the book. For example, when Lennie kills the puppy in the barn, he does not throw it away as he does in the book.
Another similar difference is when Lennie accidentally kills Curley’s wife by breaking her neck and he does not cover her in the hay, also left out from the novel. This is a mistake, because concealing the puppy and Curley’s wife shows that Lennie is remorseful of the acts he has committed, and in the movie it is not shown like that. Sinise must also consider camera shooting. Obviously camera shots are not as effective as the descriptions in the book, because you can picture what you want, and not only what the director guesses you will want to see. Sinise, as all directors, tells the audience what to imagine. Therefore it is not as interesting as reading the book yourself and letting your imagination grow.
So, if I were to recommend this movie to you, I would recommend reading the novel first. Reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck will show you what I am talking about in the movie. Because Steinbeck’s intentions are slightly altered in the film, you can fully appreciate this piece of theater whilst valuing the literature it sprung from. Sinise changes feelings, maybe not intentionally, but however hard he tried, he didn’t succeed perfectly. I won’t be too critical- perhaps he had to make cuts which thus excluding important relationship formations or conclusions. Overall the movie was good, but the book is of no comparison. Read Steinbeck’s version first, then decide for yourself. Me? I’m only one opinion.
1 John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men, Penguin Books, (c)1937, London, England. Page 80.