A brief reflection on literature, and an even briefer one on the movie, On the Road.
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road captured the beat of a generation. It bottled the spirit of a time and intoxicated generations to come with the sweet, burning lust to wander. The story tells of a youth at odds with society and a society just beginning to redefine itself. Kerouac’s voice is heard clear through pages that read like they were written on a single script, beckoning to the young and restless to strap on their packs and hit the road. The novel has become an American passage and one of the first milestone-reads of most any literary traveler.
Walter Salles’ On the Road is said to pale in comparison to the novel it adapts. Unfortunately, I can’t say this with any surety because I still have not seen the movie. Funny to think that Kerouac’s home state would not have one theater with a showing, but maybe I was lucky. From the reviews I have read, it seems I’ve been saved from disappointment. Though most reviewers agree that Salles has stayed painstakingly true to the novel (he traced Kerouac’s footprints throughout the entire country with an old camcorder), the consensus is that he has failed to convey the voice and passion of Kerouac as he jitterbugs through the America of the 50’s.
It’s a shame too. It was always Kerouac’s intention to make the novel into a film. He even wrote Marlon Brando a letter asking him to play Dean Moriarty. Brando never responded and Kerouac never made the silver screen. Unfortunately, great literature is hardly ever successfully adapted to film, if only because being literature is exactly what makes it great.