By Sara Devine (Wales)
Is My Sister’s Keeper really a keeper?
Spoiler alert – discussion of ending…
Never judge a film by its ending!
There are many ways to tell a tale and with this in mind, there are a myriad of ways to end a story. It’s often the ending that resonates most strongly and more often than not, the whole book can be about its conclusion which once over can dwell in a reader’s mind. In My Sisters Keeper, the film, the dark moments that Kate endures throughout her illness culminate in her death – the so called darkest moment. Sadly the ending is far from the carefully crafted twist in the novel. The epilogue in the book somehow softens the blow but director Cassavetes decides to omit this in his cinematic adaptation. Does it matter? Well for book lovers, this unprecedented change of direction in the film could leave you feeling somewhat cheated.
Do you change which character dies because you loved the other one more?
Cassavetes strange decision is tantamount to not bumping off Dumbledore in the film version of Harry Potter because he’s just a good guy, so why tinker with the structure just because it is going to be a bit contentious? Studios need to learn from the My Sister’s Keeper disaster, in the case of alternative endings, stick to the damn book.
I was initially surprised, when reading the book, that I even enjoyed Piccoult’s tragedy, yet another tale of terminal illness! I only forced myself to read it after a friend held it in such high esteem. In a way, I was bullied into reading it. Yet, I was glad. From start to finish I was transfixed; it is not your archetypal girly drama but instead this narrative of extremes holds much more complexity and its consideration of ethics in medicine is a point that will resonate with many a modern reader.
Yet the transformation from paper to screen resulted in what I could only have described at the time as an interpretational travesty on Piccoult’s initial intentions. Initially, the film does not disappoint. Nick Cassavetes is almost like a walking advertisement for Kleenex as exemplified in such shameless melodramatic weepers as John Q and The Notebook. Director Nick and co-screenwriter Nicholas Leven continue the straight-up tear-jerker in My Sister’s Keeper but his characterisation is astonishingly free of heavy-handedness resulting in the themes he represents cutting deep with probing questions and real emotion.
The second half of the film narrative does not hold up to the first however it is rendered almost excusable by the powerful and emotive performances by the A-list cast, which includes academy award nominee Abigail Breslin as Anna, as well as other notables in the acting world, such as Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric, Alex Baldwin and Sofia Vassileva.
Diaz is the typical strong willed resolute mother who will do anything to help keep her daughter safe and alive however her determination to save one life unintentionally hurts others. In a moral dilemma that will make the most ethical viewers question their beliefs, Diaz is willing to sacrifice her own well-being, her job and her family in order to save Kate. This particular Rom-com actress can no longer be type cast; this film has aided her progress into the greats for Hollywood drama. I, for one, have found a new respect for her talent. It is probably her best performance ever.
Exceptional acting is displayed and helps the viewer reader to put a face to the names described in the book something which the casting department should be commended for as the characters were given complete justice, the emotion displayed barricading me into the lives of the characters causing an evoke of emotion which I normally do not find when watching a film. The acting is simply stellar. This film continued to shock me with its accurate character representations and powerful performances. The initial disappointment and outright anger I felt, however, when its conclusion was reached diminished my previous positive and glowing opinions of the film and left me with just a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth – and not from the topic of the film.
During my first viewing of the film (I admit, I did go back for more in the hope that I could get over my incredulity at the film’s confusion), I was outraged. Cassavetes had clearly taken the easy way out by sticking to what the audience expected – Kate dying after her long hard struggle with cancer which is too similar to every other teenage cancer tragedy film and most recently seen in Josh Boone’s The fault in our Stars. Such a trite ending detracts from the nuances in the story and rather than the poignant, horrifically beautiful car crash twist in which Anna is killed in the book, we are presented with a predictable conclusion.
The crash is the ultimate sacrifice for Anna and results in her sister’s life being saved in one of life’s greatest ironies – the death of one so that another might survive. This complex ending mirrors the complex ethics described in the novel. The novel’s beautifully tragic conclusion questions whether it is morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child’s life…even if it means infringing on the rights of another. Therefore this finale changed the entire trajectory of the narrative. Any theme about the fragility, consequences and randomness of life is lost through this aberration of the narrative.
However the film is a perfect portrayal of the choices we make in life, even if it squandered the moral complexity inherent in the novel’s ending. In fact, the decision to change the final scene allowed Cassavetes to raise other, perhaps even more significant moral questions, namely, is it more important to let go of a loved one who is dying than to allow them to suffer just because you want to keep them in your life.
This film is therefore not a cheap excuse to make you cry. Instead, it is a heartfelt piece that through its exemplary characterisation enables me to accept Cassavetes’s cinematic masterpiece in all its glory, showing him as a real filmmaker who rarely hits a false note.
In spite of its deviant and controversial ending, this film is definitely a keeper.