Jay Parini is one of the lucky ones. A couple of years ago, I interviewed him for a piece I was writing about Russia and Leo Tolstoy's Moscow house, now a charming museum on the city's outskirts. Parini, who teaches literature at Middlebury College in Vermont, had written a good and substantial historical novel called The Last Station about the last year of Tolstoy's life and the battle for his soul. He already expected then that a movie based on his book was going to get made.
At the time, he thought Anthony Hopkins and Meryl Streep would be playing the roles of the great author and his wife Sofya -- roles ultimately taken by Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren. Not so shabby. The cast also includes two of my other favorites, James McAvoy and Paul Giamatti.
The film, in limited release until January, has already landed two Golden Globe nominations (Plummer and Mirren) and five Independent Spirit awards, and it seems poised to garner some Oscar noms as well. As any filmmaker knows, getting any film made is a small miracle. Getting a good film made is a major one. The same theory surely applies to novelists imagining a film based on their novels.
Yet, nearly every time I read a review about the new movie, there's a part of me that feels badly for Parini. Why? More often than not, the talk is all about Michael Hoffman's The Last Station, the film that he directed and wrote. Well, they might mention that it's based on Parini's novel, but more typically the reader is led to believe that the film simply sprang forth from Hoffman.
Shed no tears for Parini. He's got a major motion picture based on his novel coming to a theater near you. More than that, a good director took his work seriously enough to create a sensual human drama, not merely a stiff Masterpiece Theater job. That's damned lucky.
But let's hope as the award season rolls on that more people remember that good movies usually originate from hard-working writers like Parini, compelled to create even if the movies don't come calling.