Print to Film: Of Mice and Men

By Krishna Boreda & Shreyas Srinivasan

Overview of the novel and the movie:

Of Mice and Men was written by John Steinbeck and was first published in 1937. The plot follows two ranch workers as they try to chase their dreams of owning their own place. George - one of the two men - happens to be small in stature but mentally sharp, while Lennie, the other man, is bulky and strong but dimwitted. Lennie's failure to follow George's instructions results in multiple tragedies, ultimately leading to Lennie's death. Steinbeck thus breaks the spirit of the American Dream by portraying the cruel nature of the real world through George and Lennie. The movie - also titled Of Mice and Men - was released in 1992 with John Malkovich playing Lennie and Gary Sinise (also the director) playing George. Surprisingly, the plot of movie is exactly the same as the book. Except for a few strategic changes, the movie follows the exact same storyline and dialogues as the book.
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Characters

All characters followed the exact same pattern of development as shown in the book. However, Sinise took the liberty of adding or removing characters from certain scenes to keep the spotlight on Lennie/George. For example, when Lennie visits Crooks, Candy is a part of the conversation in the novel but is omitted in the movie. This forces the viewers to notice Lennie's kindness and innocence through the way he treats a colored man.
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Plot

Sinise did not modify the basic storyline by twisting it out of proportions. That being said, he did re-arrange the plot so that it went in chronological order. The only scene that this affects is where Lennie grabs the girl in the red dress, This is the first scene of the movie, but was a flashback in the novel. This gives the story more fluidity and gives a reason as to why the two men are on the lookout for new jobs.
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Setting

The locations described in the movie are brought to life in the movie. From the irrigation ditch were we first meet the characters, the ranch at Soledad, and to the riverside where Lennie is shot, the crew did a phenomenal job of following the setting exactly as mentioned in the novel.

Conflict

The book has several different conflicts. There are both internal and external conflicts present in both the book and the movie. The internal conflict revolves within George. Lennie is George's responsibility because of the promise he made to Lennie's aunt. He feels he must be responsible for Lennie, and protect him. There are also several different external conflicts present in the story. For example, Lennie fighting Curley, his wife, and also against George. Another external confilct is between both Lennie and George, and the society. Both George and Lennie try to find a workplace to fit in, however, they keep moving to different places, because they cannot fit into the society. Most of the conflict present in the book is present in the movie.

Theme

The theme of both the book, and the novel can be said to be that loneliness can lead to the destruction of oneself, and the others surrounded by them. This is conveyed by the characters George, Lennie, and Curley's wife. Lennie is made fun of by Crooks when he shares his dream with him. Crooks is lonely, and does not want others to have what he does not have. Therefore, he tries to bring suffering to Lennie, by making fun of his dream. Similarly, Curley's wife threatens to lynch in order to feel superior, and powerful compared to him.

Elements of Fiction and Film:

  • Music (Film): Sinise chose not to make this film a drama. Music was only included when a character would reflect on a past event, but not during scenes of violence and conflict. This allows the viewer to soak in the reasoning behind each death. This causes the spotlight to remain on Lennie, whose real intentions become very clear. He is not a malignant man, he is just a "big baby."
  • Symbolism (Fiction): George and Lennie's vision for the future is a representation of the American Dream. They work all their lives to fulfill that one ambition, but sadly, Lennie ends up getting shot before he can pet his rabbit.
  • Betrayal (Fiction): This ties in very closely with the dream that George and Lennie had. George treated Lennie like a brother, but shocks the audience when he shoots him in the end. The betrayal marks the predatory nature of the world, the survival of the fittest. If George did not shoot Lennie, he would have died a painful death at the hands of Curley. This forces the viewers to develop even more sympathy towards Lennie.

Critical Acclaim

  • Megan Chaudet pointed out in "20th Centrury American Best Sellers," that many of the contemporary reviews of Of Mice and Men were extremely positive. The novel was also highly anticipated, selling "117, 000 copies in advance of the official publication date, February 25, 1937" (Meyer).
  • Vincent Canby of the New York times recognizes the "evident talent" of the cast and crew but states that "there was no surprise left." Furthermore, Canby also mentions that the "loss of American innocence" is the most important message portrayed through Lennie's fatal end.
  • Roger Ebert rated the movie 3.5 out of 4. In his opinion, the ambiguity of the film is what gives it the magic touch. The "highest praise" he gives is that "the filmmakers have no theory" regarding the film as a whole. He goes on to state that it is the characters and their development which make the film work. "The synergy" between George and Lennie tells the story best.
  • When Of Mice and Men was initially published in 1937, everyone could relate to a George or a Lennie. The great depression ensured that people roamed from place to place in search of jobs. The 1992 film further uncovered Steinbeck's genius as is showed the marvelous character development of George. All critics agree that while the message derived from the film can vary, both the novel and the film share the successful portrayal of character development. This is perhaps the most important part of the novel because it expands upon the topic of American innocence and the cruel nature of society.