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"Million Dollar Baby" as a film adaption. An analysis of major similarities and differences between the short story and the film

Ausarbeitung 2015 22 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Literatur, Werke



1 Introduction

2 Defining Adaptation

3 Adaptation studies and their theoretical concepts

3. 1 Adaptation Studies in reference to Million Dollar Baby

4 Intermediality

5 The Problem of Comparing Literature and Film

5.1 Fidelity

6 Million Dollar Baby - Major Similarities between Movie and Short Story
6.1 Themes
6.2 Characters

7 Million Dollar Baby - Major Differences between Movie and Short Story
7.1 Themes
7.2 Figures
7.3 Added and omitted Scenes in the Movie Million Dollar Baby
7.4 Time Lags and Chronology
7.5 Speech

8 Conclusion


1 Introduction

Most of the time the content of a movie on TV or in cinema is based on the written word, like a novel or an opera or a play.[1] Also short stories, for example like Million $$$ Baby, have inspired movies very often.[2] The literary work of other writers serve “as the main source of input”[3], often somehow giving the story a new twist.[4] In fact, 85 percent of all Oscar-winning films, 95 percent of all miniseries and 70 percent all TV movies that win Emmy Awards are adaptations. Why are adaptations so successful? In this term paper I would like to answer this question. Furthermore I will survey if referred to Million $$$ Baby adaptation is its own heterocosm, with its individual characters, settings and events or if it is simply an imitation of the original. I am going to investigate if the form of the original changes by adapting, if the content does persist or if the source only serves as a hollow corpse. Further, this approach will try to give an answer to what is it that constitutes the transmuted and transferred content.[5]

The film adaptation Million Dollar Baby was directed and starred by Clint Eastwood in 2004 with Hilary Swank and Morgan Freemann in the other title roles. The screenplay of the film was written by Paul Haggis and based on the short story with the same name Million $$$ Baby by F.X. Toole, which is to be found in his book Rope Burns.[6] Toole himself worked as a “cut man” in the ring, where he had to patch up the boxer's injuries so he could continue fighting. His expert knowledge and love to the sport can be very well experienced in his stories.[7]

When the adaptation was criticised especially by disability right activists, Eastwood stated that the film was about the American and that he distances himself from the characters and actions in the film. He as a filmmaker is simply showing things as they are and not judging the decisions and operations of his figures. This might be easy to say, because the storyline is adopted. But in general, the task of a filmmaker is not to tell the audience what is proper to do. Nevertheless, Clint Eastwood's film adaptation of the short story won four Academy Awards and a prize for Best Picture ─ “a movie is not good or bad because of its content, but because how it handles its content”[8].[9]

2 Defining Adaptation

First of all, adaptations bear a less financial risk, because they have already once before proven their worth as literary successful books. That is what filmmakers call “the tried and tested”[10], which means the results of the adaptation can be trusted. Adaptation can also be sure of their recognition by audiences, because they are already familiar with the story and would like to see their imaginations come true. So film adaptations are for already established fans and even for new consumers, for example those who don't like to read. If we just think of the “Lord Of The Rings”- hype: The books have already existed decades before their film releases, but the great success came with the movies. So what exactly is a film adaptation? It is simply a content from one medium reused in another medium.[11]

In short, adaptation can be described as the following:

- an acknowledged transposition of a recognizable other work or works
- a creative and an interpretative act of appropriation/salvaging
- an extended intertextual engagement with the adapted work[12]

As we can see above, adaptation can be defined by three different approaches:

- adaptation as a process of creation
- adaptation as a product
- adaptation as engagement

We can note, that we use the same term for the process and the product itself. As a product the adaptation is a reformatted and intersemiotic transposition, not only from one medium to

a second one, but also from one sign system, which is for example words, to another, which is made up by images. Within these transportations between media and systems there are always both gains and losses.[13] In the sense of semiotic intertextuality works do not just relate between each other, but also transport meanings within cultural spheres and may change their hermeneutic identities. This circumstance implies the mode of engagement, where audience members function as the perceiving part, which means cognitively interacting with the story and interpreting it in the second instance. Adaptation as a process develops from the creative interpretation of the source text. The proceeding's first step is individual interpretation and then creation. As a result of this creative process, the foreign material has altered and become autonomous and therefore one's own.[14] As we can see above, adaptations are not mere copies, not only sharing the same story with another medium. An adaptation has its own right to exist, its own aura and its own presence – despite its adapting formation process, it is unique.[15] In case of film adaptation, the filmmaker is telling an existing story from his own point of view and therefore creates a complete different interpretation. By changing the medium, like in our object of investigation from short story to movie, the frame of the content is altered and therefore also the context. The act of adaptation involves two processes: (re-)interpretation and (re-)creation.[16] In general, filmmakers who adapt a story use the same tools as storytellers themselves do: the idea has to be concretized, selections have to be made and even amplified, analogies are used and realized, and consequently the creator shows his respect or critique to other works.[17] For example, new interpretations can be made by putting an historical content in the presence or sometimes it is really necessary to renew an old film and call for a remake because the film techniques are over aged and not understood by the today's audience.

An even more convincing reason to adapt literature is “that through images film conveys a vast amount of information that words can only attempt to approximate”[18]. Through cinematic techniques it is possible to evoke emotions differently. Images and sound can softly pull the trigger of emotion and express conditions where a recipient might feel a lack of words in literature. “Cinema has within its grasp innumerable symbols for emotions that have so far failed to find expression in words.”[19] Another point is the character of the novel or movie. The written word can take us into the mind of a protagonist and we can access his thoughts and feelings. In a film we are denied entry to the figure's inner life, it has to express it's feelings through visible reactions or talk about them. To know what's going on inside a character's mind he or she has to display their emotional response physically to the camera.[20] Storytelling is always a way of repeating stories[21] and further being told a story is not the same as seeing it brought to live on a screen[22]. Tales derive from tales, adaptations from creative interpretation.[23]

3 Adaptation studies and their theoretical concepts

There are many different approaches to analyze and categorize the phenomenon of adaptation. I would like to mention some theories, which are also important in relation with intermediality and cultural studies. The diversity of media leads to the institutionalization of film, which generates movies as academic research objects and results in new scholastic problems and methods.

The first theoretical concepts is called “film philology”, which implies the study of film and literature. Film philology includes all kind of literarization of a movie, which means for example script or screenplay as well as film critique and reviews. According to adaptations of literature also didactical and practical language modules are investigated. Film semiotics deals with movies as sign systems, which are composed of linguistic and filmic codes. These theories are based on linguistic studies by Ferdinand de Saussure and on researches on structuralistic literature by Charles Sanders Pierce.

The American philosopher Pierce's main concern was the study of the logical perception of signs. He created the term “indexicality” to name the “dyadic physical connection”[24] and “iconicity” to designate the qualitative resemblance between the character of the cue and the character of reaction.[25]

A sign can refer to an object by virtue of an inherent similarity between them (icon), by virtue of an existential contextual connection between sign an object (index), or by virtue of a general law that permits sign and object to be interpreted as connected (s ymbol).[26]

Saussure's theory is based on the assumption that the linguistic sign is composed by the signifier and the signified. The signified is a conception, which values are produced by all surrounding signifier-signifies relations in a certain language.[27] In the process of communication, media continuously channel and shape information, which is especially important for the sender as well as the recipient.[28]

The most efficient field of film studies is the theory of narration, called film narratology. This approach is dedicated to terminology, the textual surface or subsurface (deep) structure, the characterization of figures, configuration of time and space and the modi of narrative mediation. Irma Schneider for example, declares the phenomenon of narration as the fundamental “tertium comparationis”[29] between literary text and film and points out to the closeness to narrative literature. But on the contrary to pure writing, film operates with not only linguistic codes, but with acoustical and visual ones. A movie incorporates sign systems of written and spoken language as well as sounds and music.[30]

“all materials of cinema function narrationally – not only the camera but speech, gesture, written language, music, color, optical processes, lighting, costume, even offscreen space and offscreen sound”.[31]

Another important concept is Julia Kristeva's Model of Intertextuality, which relates to the relationship among texts themselves or the textual interaction that takes place within a single text. Therefore, a text is a mosaic of references and quotations, which absorbs other texts and changes their meanings within it’s own structure.[32]

Gerard Genettes, with his term “transtextuality” also denotes the relationship between texts, but divides it in five sub-categories:

- intertextuality: in a more narrow sense: effective presence of one text in another
- paratextuality: subsumes all relations that frame a literary text
- metatextuality: a level at which the relationship between two texts is channeld to only one annotation
- hypertextutality: This refers to any relationship between a pre-text (hypotext) and a present text (hypertext), the derivation of each other and their superimposition by transformation processes
- architextutality: "Taxonomic affiliation" of a text genre categories; determines the expectation horizon of a reader[33]

The textual transcendence puts the text in a manifest or secret relation to other texts. According to Genettes, transtextuality is a fundamental property of all texts and there is no text that does not occupy at least one these types mentioned above. That is what he calls "literature on a second level".[34]


[1] See Hutcheon: “The Theory of Adaptation”, p. 1

[2] See ibid, p. 19

[3] Quote by William S. Borroughs, in ibid., p. 1

[4] See ibid.

[5] See Hutcheon: “The Theory of Adaptation”, p. 10 ff.

[6] See Smith: „The Morgan Freeman Handbook – Everything you need to know about Morgan

Freeman”, p. 144

[7] See, Production Notes: Million Dollar Baby p.3

[8] Quote by Roger Ebert, in Smith: „The Morgan Freeman Handbook – Everything you need to know about Morgan Freeman”, p. 147

[9] See ibid.

[10] Hutcheon: “The Theory of Adaptation”, p. 5

[11] See ibid., p. 4 ff.

[12] Ibid., p. 8

[13] See ibid., p. 15 f.

[14] Hutcheon: “The Theory of Adaptation”, p. 18 ff.

[15] See ibid., p. 6

[16] See ibid., p. 8

[17] See ibid., p. 8

[18] Ibid., p. 2

[19] Ibid., p. 3

[20] See ibid., p. 24 f.

[21] See Hutcheon: “The Theory of Adaptation”, p. 2

[22] See ibid. p. 12

[23] See ibid., p. 2

[24] Mertz: “Semiotic Mediation: Sociocultural and Psychological Perspectives”, p. 25

[25] See ibid.

[26] Ibid., p. 3

[27] See Mertz: “Semiotic Mediation: Sociocultural and Psychological Perspectives”, p. 3

[28] See Wolf, W.: “The Relevance of Mediality and Intermediality to Academic Studies of English

Literature”, in: Fischer, Andreas/Heusser, Martin/Jucker, Andreas H.: “Mediality/Intermediality”, p. 22

[29] See Sternberg: ”Film und Literaturwissenschaft”, p. 14

[30] See ibid., p. 1 f.

[31] Ibid., p. 21

[32] See

[33] See

[34] See


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Titel: "Million Dollar Baby" as a film adaption. An analysis of major similarities and differences between the short story and the film