Munro and Movies

Thanks to the Swedish Academy, Alice Munro doesn’t need a blockbuster movie to raise awareness of her works. Described by The New York Times as ‘Master of the Intricacies of the Human Heart’, and with her story settings mostly in rural counties and small towns, the 82 year-old writer must have known how the small and intimate can have far-reaching effects.

The short story as a literary form too must have gained importance and legitimation overnight now that Munro is honored as Nobel Laureate. The novel isn’t the only peak of the mountain of literary pursuits. Readers too, can now be totally comfortable with reading ‘just a short story’.

Back to movies, with our contemporary mega, blockbuster culture, it sure looks like the general public need to see a movie before knowing about a literary work. While I don’t like the idea, I’ve to admit that could well be the case nowadays. But for Munro, can anyone name a full feature movie that’s based on her short stories?

Right. Actually there are four. Edge of Madness (2002) is relatively unknown. Another one interestingly is an Iranian film, Canaan, which won the Audience Awards–Best Film at the Fajr International Film Festival in 2008. A better known adaptation is Away From Her (2006). It remains one of my all time favorite films. The most recent completed production is Hateship Loveship which premiered at TIFF13. I regret missing it when I was there in September. A film based on her story ‘Runaway’ is currently in development.

With Munro winning the Nobel, hopefully we’ll have the chance to see a general release of Hateship Loveship. So there you go, Munro could well be helping to reverse the trend: the writer promoting the film.

To celebrate Munro’s Nobel win, I’d like to repost in the following a review of Away From Her which I wrote in 2008. The film was directed by the young and talented Canadian actor/director Sarah Polley, who was nominated for an Oscar for her adapted screenplay based on Munro’s short story ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain’. Julie Christie received an Oscar nomination for her role as Alzheimer’s afflicted Fiona.

You can read Munro’s story ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain’ now online, thanks to a timely reprint by The New Yorker.



AWAY FROM HER: A Short Review

How can you turn a good short story into a full length movie without compromising its quality? By turning it into a screenplay written by an equally sensitive and passionate writer, and then, through her own talented, interpretive eye, re-creates it into a visual narrative. Along the way, throw in a few veteran actors who are so passionate about what the script is trying to convey that they themselves embody the message.

Sarah Polley has made her directorial debut with a most impressive and memorable feat that I’m sure things will go even better down her career path. What she has composed on screen speaks much more poignantly than words on a page, calling forth sentiments that we didn’t even know we had. As Alzheimer’s begins to take control over Fiona, what can a loving husband do? Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent stir up thoughts in us that we’d rather bury: how much are we willing to give up for love? Or, how would we face the imminence of our loved ones’ and our own mental and physical demise?

Based on the story by Alice Munro, ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain’, Polley brings out the theme of unconditional love not with your typical Hollywood’s hot, young, and sexy on screen, but aging actors in their 60’s and 70’s. It may not be as pleasurable to watch wrinkled faces hugging and kissing, or a man and a woman in bed, bearing age spots and all, but such scenes effectively beg the question: why feel uncomfortable?

Why does love has to be synonymous with youth, beauty, and romance? It is even more agonizing to watch how far Grant is willing to go solely for love of Fiona. Lucky for us, both writers spare us the truly painful at the end. It is through persistent, selfless giving that one ultimately receives; however meager and fleeting that reward may seem, it is permanence in the eyes of love. And it is through the lucid vision of a youthful 28-year-old writer/director that such ageless love is vividly portrayed…. Oh, the paradoxes in life.

~ ~ ~ Ripples


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

27 thoughts on “Munro and Movies”

  1. I loved “Away From Her”. One of the things about Alice Munro that challenges me is the bold imperfection of her characters and the risks she takes with them. That was so beautifully transmitted in this film along with an atmosphere that felt “Canadian”.

    I am a recent Munro fan. I enjoyed “Dance of the Happy Shades” many years ago but it was “Runaway” that really made me understand Munro’s greatness. I threw it down in frustration – my emotional reaction was so intense!

    And now many more around the world will have the chance to experience her short stories. Munro may take home the Nobel Prize, but we are the winners…


    1. Michelle,

      Well said indeed. We are the winners in that, her win just reflects what she embodies, the humble, reclusive, and talented writer being deservedly recognized. Umm… shall we say, that in itself is very Canadian? 😉


  2. I’m so excited for Munro! Even though I don’t read many short stories, I have read two Munro collections, and I enjoyed them both greatly. I hope the short story does gain in prominence because of this. Between her and George Saunders, who has done so well lately, the short story seems to be having a good year!


    1. Rebecca,

      Since 1901, there have only been 13 woman Nobel literature winners. And Munro is Canada’s first female Nobel Laureate. Hope this trend can continue in all categories, just for a more balanced representation. Glad there’s much yay’s and congrats from our southern neighbors. Looks like we’re all feeling proud, all of us. 😉


    1. Mrs. B,

      I admit I have only read a few of her stories, so I’m no authority to recommend. I think with Alice Munro, you just can start anywhere. As you may know here in Ripple Effects, I focus on the adaptation process. If you’re interested in book to film, you may want to start with those stories and watch the film later. (Titles in my post) Of the few stories I’ve read, I like ‘Runaway’ the most.


  3. I am so happy that she won. What a celebration for shorter fiction ( I find it hard to classify Munro’s works as “stories”; they are compact, yes, but as rich as novels)! Never realized that movies had been made from her work, though. Embarrassing…


    1. ds,

      You’re absolutely right. Munro packs so much in a short story. Actually, calling the longer ones novella may be more correct. Do look for the films, Away From Her I highly recommend. Hateship Loveship I’d like to see. And Runaway, I look forward to its completion and release.


  4. I loved “Away From Her”, but had no idea about the other 3 movies based on her work. Thank you for informing me! I’ve just read “Dear Life”, Munro is an author I have followed for twenty years or so. One of the things I find exceptional with her work is how the quality is so high in all of what she has written, it’s kind of unusual for an author producing such a rich body of texts. I really think the Nobel committee made an excellent choice this year!


    1. Sigrun,
      I’m not sure which story Edge of Madness is based on. But you know, the film may not even have been shown on the big screen. Its DVD premiered in Norway. So maybe it’s easier for you to get hold of it than for us. Canaan was only shown in Iran. Away from Her was shown here in N.A. on limited release. The DVD is easy to get. As for Hateship Loveship, let’s hope it will be released on the big screen now that Munro has won, and Runaway will follow suit.


  5. An excellent choice indeed and such a great collection of collections to choose from, I can’t wait to add more Alice Munro to the shelf. I have a feeling we will be seeing many more adaptations of her stories now that Hollywood has been given a pointer and an accolade with which to add to their future selling points. 🙂


    1. Claire,

      I’m always intrigued by how filmmakers decide which story is good to turn into movie. Like, I wouldn’t have thought ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain’ was even movie material. So it’s just amazing how Sarah Polley could spot that and wrote such a wonderful screenplay based on it. Yes, let’s hope more talented screenwriters/filmmakers will do the same, turning Munro’s stories into good films.


  6. This is a tough and beautiful movie — you called it well. I was thrilled when I heard Munro won. I’ve admired her since “The Moons of Jupiter” decades ago. She is always spot on. I will look forward to Hatehip/Loveship” — I suspect you are right; with the Nobel behind her, this might make a greater splash in more markets.


    1. Jeanie,

      You’ve reminded me… I used to have The Moons of Jupiter but now I can’t find it. I admit I haven’t been a ‘long time Munro fan’. I’ve read a few stories here and there, but now I’ll be reading the collections I have from cover to cover. And yes… I look forward to some good films.


  7. I’ve not read any Munro – clearly, that’s a situation that has to be remedied. With her wonderful win, this seems like a good time to begin famliarizing myself with her work. From what you and the others have said, and after my re-read of your review, I think I’d enjoy it. On the list!


    1. Linda,

      You know, we Canadians don’t feel comfortable with self-promotion. So you know how exhilarating it is for others to tout about one of our own. I haven’t been a faithful Munro reader, and that has to be remedied too. 😉


  8. I have subscribed to The New Yorker for close to thirty years. So, I am very familiar with Alice Munro’s exquisitely written short stories. They have published her regularly for decades. I was so dismayed when I recently heard that she was retiring from writing. Whenever I’d open my New Yorker and check out what was in that week’s table of contents, I’d feel a spark of excitement when one of her tales was included. You are so right that Sarah Polley did a wonderful job adapting ‘The Bear Climbed Over the Mountain’ into ‘Away from Her’. I have read that story and seen that film twice. I am so pleased that she was given such a prestigious award. She is a wonderful writer who deserves the recognition.


    1. LA,

      You’re a much more devoted Alice Munro fan than I am… hats off to you! I read somewhere that she just might re-emerge from retirement now. Let’s hope so. As for film adaptations, I’m always intrigued by how a short story can be turned into a full length feature film. Sarah Polley has shown us she’s got the stuff and the eye to do just that. Let’s hope she and other film talents will continue to offer us wonderful visual narratives from Munro’s works.


      1. On my way into The Grind this morning I saw that in this week’s issue of The New Yorker they’re republished ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain’. I often read my favorite magazine on my iPhone on the subway. My letter carrier doesn’t deliver the print copy until later in the week. The New Yorker has a terrific app loaded with multimedia extras.


          1. You might be limited in what you can use on the app if you’re not a subscriber. As a subscriber, you have access to every issue in their archive going back to when they first started publishing in 1925. It’s very cool. They really have it together via 21st century media.


    1. Stefanie,

      Just in time. The New Yorker is reprinting Munro’s ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain’ now, you can read it online here. That’s the short story that the excellent film Away From Her is adapted from. You just need to watch this one, cause the first two I mentioned aren’t accessible here in North Am. But, do watch out for Hateship, Loveship, which I hope will enjoy a general release soon.


  9. I do love short stories. Thank you for that link to Munro’s ‘The Bear..’ I hadn’t read any of her works but recently had a few hours with a collection of short stories. I found the book in a most unlikely place — in the waiting room of an auto repair shop. And now I want to read more!


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