10 September 2001 | pae-sk
A well-intentioned but misguided disaster!
Norman Mailer once observed, "There is a particular type of really bad novel that makes a great motion picture." With that in mind, this feeble attempt to film the greatest 20th Century English novel falls flat, as pointless an exercise as dramatizing "The Leviathan" by Thomas Hobbes or the Declaration of Independence. It just can't be done. Joyce pioneered the plotless novel, concentrating on character development and situation, together with the melding of his characters' inner thoughts running in a hodge-podge of images and overlapping, run-on sentences. For those unfamiliar with the work, "Ulysses" is the story of an author in search of a character about whom he can write a novel: two men, one middle-aged, one young, wandering aimlessly through Dublin for 18 hours, finally meeting in a brothel, and then discussing their day over a cup of cocoa. That's it. Joyce himself joked that he had written a novel that would keep English professors busy for the next century, and the deciphering of his masterpiece has become a cottage industry. This is not a motion picture: rather, it is a tour de force in the nature of Charles Laughton reading from the New York Telephone directory: the presentation may be brilliant, but the exercise is pointless. The actors recite Joyce's prose brilliantly and Milo O'Shea, Maurice Reeves and Barbara Jefford, as Leopold Bloom, Stephen Daedalus and Molly Bloom respectively, look exactly like what one would imagine the characters to appear, but this is hardly enough to sustain the viewers' interests for an excess of two hours. Literary critic John Greenway observed, "To read it ['Ulysses'] with ease, one should have a PhD in comparative languages and literature." Indeed, Joyce himself spoke some 15 languages fluently and his work abounds with multiple lingual puns. Caveat: unless you have at least majored in English Literature and taken a graduate course in James Joyce, you won't have the slightest idea what is going on here - nor will you care.