Book-to-movie adaptation | My Sister’s Keeper


“Having a child who is sick is a full-time occupation. Sure, we still enjoy the usual day-to-day happinesses of family life. Big house, great kids, beautiful wife. But beneath the exterior, there are cracks, resentments, alliances that threaten the very foundation of our lives as at any moment our whole world could come tumbling down.” (00:04:55-00:05:21).

Warning, warning: spoiler alert for both book and movie.

I basically spent last night looking at a screen choked up and crying, because I wanted to discuss the book-to-movie adaptation of My Sister’s Keeper on my blog. I first watched the movie when it came out in 2009. I read the book and did a book review of My Sister’s Keeper two weeks ago. Since I watched the movie before I read the book, my perception of the movie adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s novel is not entirely unbiased. There are many small distinctions between the book and movie, but I will focus on three major ones.

Short synopsis: Young Anna has undergone countless of procedures to help save her older sister Kate. Kate has been battling leukemia since she was two. Anna is a designer baby conceived in order to be a bone marrow donor for Kate. Anna’s life and that of her entire family revolve around Kate’s health. When Kate needs one of Anna’s kidneys to survive, Anna sues her parents for the rights to her own body with the help of lawyer Campbell.

One of the major contrasts between the book and movie for me was the portrayal of family life. The movie shows a warm family that would give up the world for each other. Kate’s disease influences the family tremendously, but they are still able to create happy memories. The movie deals with heavy themes; yet Anna and Kate’s friendship, the tight-knit family, Kate’s first boyfriend, the light music and warm memories all lighten the load and keep the tone for the most part upbeat and hopeful. In the novel however the Fitzgerald family is entirely disconnected. There aren’t many cuddly moments: Anna’s mom’s only concern is Kate’s survival; Anna’s father seeks refuge in his job; both parents gave up on Anna’s older brother; and Anna seems at times invisible to her parents. The family is broken.

Another obvious difference is the absence of Julia in the movie. Consequently we miss out on an entire storyline: the complicated relationship between Julia and Campbell. A parallel can be drawn between Anna/Kate’s relationship and Julia/Campbell’s relationship. Both Kate and Campbell feel their existence restricts the lives of the people they love and therefore make a decision to remove themselves from the lives of those loved ones.

Finally the most notable difference is the ending. The movie is clear from the start that Kate’s death is inevitable; Kate’s death does not come as a surprise. In the book, Anna is declared brain dead after a car accident; Kate receives Anna’s kidney and goes into remission. The ending of the book is convenient; since Anna is left brain dead, no difficult decisions have to be made regarding Anna’s and Kate’s future. I personally prefer the ending of the movie; it conveys a more realistic outcome.

All in all, the book is wonderfully written and the movie tells a heartbreaking story. It is a nicely done adaptation.  They do differ, but I was gripped by both. The movie depicts many of the major themes of the novel though obviously not in the same depth.

My Sister’s Keeper. Directed by Nick Cassavetes, performances by Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Alec Baldwin, Jason Patric, Sofia Vassilieva, and Joan Cusack. New Line Cinema, 2009.

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