The HBO Films movie version of Cormac McCarthy's The Sunset Limited is the latest piece of McCarthy's writing to be adapted for the screen. This time it's one of his plays, and since (one surmises) it was written to be performed, HBO Films seems to merely be helping this piece of work achieve its telos. But what about the rest of Cormac's books that went, or are on their way, to Hollywood? Should they have happened? Yes and no.
Remember when Billy Bob Thornton was like this new screenwriter/actor on the scene who was posing as a man-child redneck to help sell himself in Hollywood? That was a weird and uncomfortable time for everyone. At first he played that role of "uneducated outsider in Hollywood" so tightly, but then everyone kind of figured out that it was phony and he tried to deny ever selling himself like that. That pose was eventually uncovered, but that pose sold the hell out of Sling Blade and even won it some Oscars. I can remember going to see Sling Blade and someone telling me beforehand that a retarded man from Arkansas had made it but that it somehow turned out really good. And Sling Blade was an OK movie. At the time. But have you seen it recently? Good God, Thornton's performance is almost a total laugh riot. Anyway, after "Billy Bob" got enough credentials for people to back his films, he set his sights on McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. This book, for most McCarthy fans, is Cormac at his absolute worst (or most marketable). And the movie, starring Matt Damon (who was cast, I'm guessing, due to his sheer rawness) was a sweeping failure on every level. Even Cormac thought so.
But then there's the Coen Brothers and No Country for Old Men (originally written as a screenplay). That movie was pretty damn great and will most likely stand the test of time. What made one of these films so good and one such shit? Obviously the text they began with must play some role. Could the Coen Brothers have made All the Pretty Horses into a good movie? Probably not as great as No Country for Old Men but it would have definitely been better than "Billy Bob" and Matt "Raw" Damon's excursion into ridiculousness. This is leading somewhere, I promise.
The rights to Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece, Blood Meridian, have recently been purchased and I am beginning to feel a bit Muslim over the issue. I am not a Muslim. I, admittedly, know very little about their religion. One thing that has always confused me is why they are always so touchy about any visual representation of Mohammed. I've read Blood Meridian and I have in my head a certain visual representation of it. This "visual" was created by the text and how the text met with my mind to create in my imagination the faces and bodies, the movements and sounds, of the book's characters, their actions, and the surrounding scenery (need a brush up on the old hermeneutics?). I would like to think that my idea of what the book "looks like" is an idea both indomitable and unique to my mind and my mind alone. But the sad truth of the matter is that the face of whichever actor they choose to play the infamous Judge Holden will most likely overpower and replace the less tangible, yet more personal, image I already have of him in my head. At the very least a duplicity will be created, and my relationship with the book (along with everyone else's) will be weakened by it. So, I was thinking, "Is this maybe how Muslims feel about visually representing Mohammed?" Do they just not want their individual relationships with Mohammed or Allah to be equalized, or homogenized, by slapping a particular face onto the prophet? Maybe? Maybe not? I mean, one can see how it might make your religion or belief system a little washier. Putting a face onto something can be illuminating, but a face can also drain something of all its mystery and power. Not all bonds are meant to be shared.
In the end, it's a free country (kind of). Cormac can sell his book to whomever he pleases and that person can do whatever they want to with what they've paid for. (Freedom. America. Hurrah.) The mere attempt to turn Blood Meridian into a movie must be lauded for its bravery alone because, man oh man, the people who love this book really REALLY love this book, and if a bad job gets done to it, whoever is responsible will be crucified by the McCarthy loyalists (even as they count their new stacks of bills). All one can really say is "Good luck." I'd truly love to see this turn out well. The Wall Street Journal once asked Cormac about people saying Blood Meridian is unfilmable due to the darkness and violence. To which he replied: "That's all crap. The fact that it's a bleak and bloody story has nothing to do with whether or not you can put it on the screen. That's not the issue. The issue is it would be very difficult to do and would require someone with a bountiful imagination and a lot of balls. But the payoff could be extraordinary." It sounds like he's daring someone to even try turning Blood Meridian into a movie, doesn't it? It almost sounds as if he's trying to set them up.