Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I watched the film Angela's Ashes, an adaptation from Frank McCourt's autobiography, in honor of his life and passing in the past month. I've read the book before, but I've been thinking about him lately, and this was my way to look a little more into his life.
The film and the book actually sync up pretty well. Obviously some parts are omitted from the movie to make it shorter, but other parts in the film were created to represent many smaller incidences in the book. For example, instead of showing Frankie "discovering himself" sexually, they show it in one scene where he does it with a group of boys in the field. In terms of time, I don't think it's a bad idea to do it that way when turning a book into a movie.
One thing I didn't forget about reading the book was how absolutely depressing it is. The plot makes a great story, but it breaks your heart. Within the first half hour of the movie, his baby sister dies, and his two younger twin brothers both die on separate occasions. It wasn't really described in the movie how they died; they just seemed to end up in coffins. Later on, Frank's mother puts up a fit about using second-hand mattresses that might have once held people who died of consumption which alludes to the fact that her babies might have died that way as well.
Death early on must have been really hard for Frank to cope with. How can a child understand that much death? At least there were no more deaths for him until he was a teenager when his grandmother passed (who was kind of mean to him anyway) and when the girl he was fooling around with passed of consumption. What is consumption anyway?
After the passing of Frank's sister, they moved from Brooklyn back to Ireland. They lived on welfare since Frank's father couldn't hold a steady job. He spent all his time and money on booze and would come home very drunk and disturb the children. When they were really short on cash, Frank's father went away to England to work. He promised he would send back money on Saturdays, but he never sent the family anything. He spent all the money on the drink. Thus, Frank's family was near starving, only having tea and bread on most days, if that. They lived in horrible conditions; the floor in their downstairs was constantly flooded from rain and the upstairs walls were basically falling apart. They eventually tear them down for firewood when they are near freezing in wintertime.
In order to help out the family as the oldest child, Frank gets small jobs here and there to help out. Frank can't stand watching his mother beg for leftover food from the churches and loaning money from others in order to help her family survive without their father. When Frank is younger, he helps shovel and deliver coal, but after a few weeks, his eyes turn bloodshot red and he gets chronic conjuctivitis. He then has to quit for that. Later on, he develops typhoid and is hospitalized and misses much school. He then has to prove his intelligence to the school as they want to hold him back.
Frank eventually gets another job as a postboy, sending out the mail. This is how he earns his money to go to America. He knows America and education are his ticket out of Ireland where he might just as well go down the same paths of those around him. This is where he meets the girl he fools around with and watches her pass. Towards the end of the book, he earns enough money to leave, and the movie concludes with Frank sailing towards the Statue of Liberty.
Frank also shows his time in school, a very strict, uptight Roman Catholic school. They severely beat them and punished them. They would chant and focused a lot on God, the Bible, and its teachings. Frank was teased a lot at school for not having proper clothes or shoes. When he gets holes in his boots, Frank's father Malachy takes a bicycle tire, cuts it, and glues it to the bottom of their shoes. This only earns them more ridicule when they get to school. They really only had one proper outfit and shoes in all seasons, which must have been very difficult.
Angela's Ashes also gets into the division between Ireland. Malachy was from the north of Ireland, and Frank's mother Angela was from Limerick in southern Ireland. When Frank's family was in trouble, Angela's family was reluctant to help them at all because of Malachy's background. They even mocked the children who looked like they were from northern Ireland. There was prejudice even between the same country there! It astounds me.
But even though he went through really harsh conditions as a child, it seemed like he took everything with a grain of salt. Somehow, he didn't come out disturbed or troubled. He gave back. He appreciated his life. He taught others. He wrote. It seems that he got past these troubles, maybe even coming to peace with it in his writing, but I'm proud of him for that. From the impressions he gave off to the public, it seemed as if this was just the past, but that must be hard to put troubles like these behind you.
I am not surprised that this book earned McCourt the Pulitzer for Autobiography after its publication. McCourt also published 'Tis and Teacher Man which follow up where Angela's Ashes left off.
I couldn't really find it, but I'm thinking of the title Angela's Ashes. Frank's mother was Angela, but she didn't die during the book. Maybe for her hard work and suffering, the book is dedicated to her. The children survived because of her. But why ashes? There is no death of her...
The movie, I think, did a great job of conveying Ireland and Frank's struggles. The actors they chose for the characters seemed to be right on. Overall, the book and the film were very well done. I know they teach this book at a local school, and I can see why. It's definitely worth the time.
What do you think of Angela's Ashes?