What is the difference between the movie and the story?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As is often the case with any kind of psychological story, the movie simply cannot match the effect of the written narrative.  And, such is the case with the 1985 movie, Smooth Talk, starring Laura Dern as Connie and Treat Williams as Arnold Friend.  For, it is always difficult in a movie to convey all that goes on in the mind of the character. In addition, Smooth Talk presents only one interpretation of Oates's novel, whereas her denouement is ambiguous and allows different interpretations.

With a gothic story such as "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" there are also subtleties of character that cannot be portrayed by an actor as well as they can with the aid of an omniscient narrator and the written page.  For instance, the name of Arnold Friend, if one removes the rs is An old Fiend, suggesting, of course, that the deceptive man who appears young and is not, who is uncertain of which slang word is currently used by teens, and who has to balance himself in his boots--indicating,perhaps, that he is standing on hooves--is the devil that has come for Connie whose trashy dreams have now materialized. 

Regarding the portrayal of Connie's character, Laura Dern does a good job of depicting the duality of Connie who acts one way at home and another with her friends and in her flirtations; however, it is difficult for her to convey well what transpires in Connie's mind as Arnold Friend terrifies her.  Although she does portray Connie's terror, the audience cannot know as they do with the narrative that

She thought for the first time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wan't really her  either.

And as Laura/Connie walks out the doorway, it is difficult for the viewer to understand the detachment which Oates so well communicates,

She watched herself push the door slowly ope as if she were safe back somewhere in the other door way, watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited. 

In an effort to portray this feeling, Laura Dern looks bacwards from the seat in the convertible as Friend drives her away, but this action does not fully convey what Oates's words do.  Besides, the narrative is altered as the companion of Arnold, Ellie, stays in the house while they go off, and Laura Dearn actually returns, also, but it is not known whether she has been raped or not.

In short, much of the effect of the psychological horror is lost in the flim version as are other important details, evocative language, symbols, and ambiguities.  At any rate, the three-star movie Smooth Talk is only loosely based upon Oates story.

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