What are some of the differences and similarities between the movie and the book Beloved?
The film version of Beloved does a decent job of trying to illuminate the primary themes of the novel, however, much of the book deals with abstract ideas such as guilt and shame which are difficult to translate visually. The primary similarities between the two versions of the story are the characters, which are virtually identical, although the novel spends more time on characters such as The Teacher and Sethe's mother. The settings are also nearly identical, but I find the longer descriptions of Sweet Home in the book to also help us, as readers, to more clearly picture the environment that leads to the horrific centerpiece of the story. The film does a fairly good job of depicting the illusive character of Beloved and, in this regard, may be more helpful than the book because it's easier to get a handle of the idea of Beloved as a spirit or ghost when one can see the physical manifestation. I find that my students struggle to understand how she can be real and not real when they read the novel. Probably the biggest difference between the film and the book, for me, is the lack of the "Middle Passage" scene in the film. This is one of the most critical scenes in the novel and the one that allows students to make the important connection between Sethe's story and the universal idea of the horror of bondage that resonates from generation to generation.
Something else that is missing from the movie version of this novel are Paul D's experiences between the time he leaves Sweet Home and when he makes it up to 124 Bluestone Road in Cincinnati. While they are not crucial to the story of Sethe, Beloved, and Denver, they do help to flesh him out as a character. They also contribute to the impression the reader gets of the overwhelming horrors of slavery and bondage, as another commenter said about the movie's failure to dramatize the Middle Passage episode from the book.
Paul D's treatment and the treatment all of the enslaved men endure, such as being forced to perform oral sex on the white men who enslave them, is difficult to stomach but important to the text's representation of what slavery was and how thoroughly the slave owners dehumanized their slaves.
Also, Paul D's escape from this prison camp is an unbelievably powerful moment when dozens of enslaved men face death, submerged in wooden cages underground when heavy rains begin to fall and flood them. These men must trust one another, as they are all chained together: they will all live or they will all die in the attempt to win their freedom. The fact that Paul D, that all of them, survive is an inspiring testament to what a person can endure and how one can find a way to still believe in freedom and love despite such horrifying life experiences.
Beloved the film follows the book pretty closely with regard to characters and plot development. Some of the conversations in the film even follow the dialogue in the book directly. The biggest similarity between the book and the film is found in the setting of Ohio; the time period is accurately and appropriately depicted the way it is described in the novel. Also, the way Sethe is depicted as a caring and concerned mother stays true to the novel as well.
However, the thematics of the movie seem to draw away from Morrison's story, as the haunting, and even Beloved herself, are arguably too dramatized. The film also does not seem to translate Morrison's depiction of major themes, including the significance of nature, the power of a mother's love, and the struggle to move on from the past. Morrison develops incredible, powerful depictions of these themes through the language she uses throughout her novel, while the film seems to fall short of accurately depicting them. The birthing scene where Sethe gives birth to Denver also makes it seem like less of an arduous task than the book does. The slight nuances of difference in the film don't necessarily draw away from Morrison's novel; they just water it down a bit.