After seeing the movie on the night it released (and the exclusive-one-night-only post film interview with Jeanette Walls), I have been really thinking about how I feel about the movie.
The book isn’t just something I have read for pleasure. It is one of my favorite books, one I have taught multiple times in my freshman composition courses, and one I have dedicated significant time to developing teaching resources for (found here).
I decided to make my own book vs. movie guide since I haven’t yet had someone to discuss the movie with. These are questions I’ve developed to add to my TPT site, questions I’d likely use if I were still teaching in the college classroom, and questions I’d likely ask if I were in a book club who’d read the book before seeing the movie.
There are twenty questions and they are long. If you’ve read the book and seen the movie, let’s chat!
The Glass Castle Book vs. Movie Analysis Questions
1. Early in the movie adaptation of The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, Rex tells a young Jeanette that life is made up of moments that hang in the balance between chaos and order. This is a theme also present in the book. Based on the movie’s adaptation of the story, name three scenes where Jeanette and/ or her siblings are living in chaos. Name three scenes where Jeanette and/or her siblings experience order, or what many would say were “normal” moments of a loving childhood.
2. The book version of the story is obviously more nuanced and has many more details than a movie adaptation would have time and space to convey. One theme the book delved into more heavily was the multiple scenarios where sexuality (and even the abuse of it) was explored. For example, the book goes into detail about Uncle Stanley arousing himself in front of Jeanette, Brian’s encounter with the prostitute, Jeanette’s run-in with Billy Deel, and the time when Jeanette wakes up to a wandering stranger who comes inside their unlocked house fondling her while she sleeps. The movie omits these details. Do you think they were purposely omitted? Why so? How might have their addition effected the overall tone of the movie? Or, why was leaving them out the right choice?
3. In addition to many omitted scenes, the movie also took liberties of blending together elements of multiple details for the overall story arc to be preserved. For example, in the book Rex’s unorthodox swimming lessons take place at the hot springs in the desert and the swimming scene with racial tension happens when Jeanette and Dinitia Hewitt are at the pool together in Welch. Do you believe that the blending of these details detracted from the story or do you think it was a necessary effort to give viewers an overview of Jeanette’s childhood. Support your answer.
4. In many interviews, Jeanette Walls shares that her mother, Rose Mary is still living and resides on Jeanette’s property with her. Some would argue that the movie adaptation is a kinder and more gracious portrayal of Rose Mary than the book. For example, in the book, we read that Rose Mary has hidden food for herself when her kids have had nothing; in the book we read of her shoplifting and running an illegal check-writing scheme at the bank; in the book we read of her neglecting Lori’s need for glasses until the school offers to pay for the cost of them. Do you believe that the fact that Rose Mary is still alive and part of Jeanette’s life compelled Walls to have the movie showcase her mother in a more loving, “victimized” light? Do you think the movie did a good job of fully developing Rose Mary’s character as it was portrayed in the book, or was her character softened for the big screen? Why or why not?
5. One symbol that is prevalent in the book is the element of fire. The book begins with Jeanette catching on fire while she is cooking, shows the her fascination with burning her baby doll’s nose, explores the fire started in the hotel, and tells of the chemical fire started by Jeanette and Brian. In the movie version there’s the scene during the Walls’s desert camping trip where Jeanette and her father discuss the flames and the movie ends with Jeanette’s lighting the gas stove as she prepares a family dinner. A more subtle detail is shown immediately after Jeanette’s epiphany in the restaurant bathroom (when she decides she is finally finished with lying to other people about her family and upbringing), as she walks purposefully back to the dinner table, past a flaming serving dish at the buffet to deliver her truth to her dinner guests and her husband. Do you think that was an intentional detail or nod to the symbolic nature of fire (chaos/turbulence and order) or merely a background detail at the restaurant? How successfully do you believe the movie adaptation portrayed this important but destructive element?
6. Select from one of the following movie scenes or plot threads and fully develop a view point about how successfully or unsuccessfully it was depicted in the movie versus how it was depicted in the book?
* demon hunting
* the plans for the Glass Castle
* “Oz” the piggy bank
* the Uhaul moving scene
* Jeanette’s burn scars
7. Select from one of the following book scenes or plot lines that was omitted (or severely underplayed) from the movie adaptation and develop a point of view about how its addition to the movie may have contributed to the audience’s overall understanding of the narrative.
* Erma’s blatant racism
* the author’s constant use of the term “skedaddle”
* Rose Mary’s employment
* Rex’s drunk driving
8. One of the most blatant additions to the movie that was not present in the book, was the Christmas scene where Jeanette was given a blank journal and the nod it gives to her early creativity and love of writing. Some would argue that this addition was too saccharine or excessively sentimental. Do you agree or disagree? How might this be an example of creative license that the screenwriter took? Or how did this small detail effectively play into Jeanette’s character or persona? Is this an example of life imitating art or art imitating life? Explain.
9. Critics are sometimes skeptical about the genre of memoir, often citing the unreliability of memory. The Glass Castle memoir is no exception. Many have wondered if all of the terrible things that Walls portrays in her book could have actually happened or if she embellishes the facts in order to shock readers and sell books. However, as the cliche goes, truth is often stranger than fiction. Due to the fact that many nuanced details of Walls’s life were omitted from the movie, and it appeared to be a somewhat “cleaned up” version of the book, do you believe movie-goes will take her story at face value more than readers of her book? Why or why not? Support your answer.
10. Select one character from the list below and support or defend the casting choice in the movie adaptation. Did the character’s actions line up with how you perceived him/her from the book? Did the actor look like what you imagined the character should look like? What about costuming? Dialect? Emotional portrayal? Would you have substituted any of the cast and if so, who may have played the role more accurately?
* Jeanette (Brie Larson)
* Rex (Woody Harrleson)
* Rose Mary (Naomi Watts)
* David (Max Greenfield)
11. In the book version of The Glass Castle, the story is bookended by “present day” interactions between Jeanette and her family. Throughout the entire book, there is no weaving in and out of time; the story is chronological and linear. How effectively did the screenwriter’s use of flashback work in the movie? Did it feel seamless and consistent or did it feel confusing and disjointed? Explain. Also, another thought on time: did the movie’s pacing feel right? Was the movie too long, dragging, and overly ambitious or did it accurately portray the story in the right duration?
12. One of the over-arching ideas presented in the book was the theme of co-dependence, particularly in the relationship between Rex and Rose Mary and the relationship between Jeanette and Rex. Did the movie successfully depict this to the degree of the book or was it a miss altogether? Choose one of the following examples to defend your point of view:
* Jeanette stitching up her father’s wound
* Jeanette asking Rex to stop drinking
* Jeanette encouraging her mother to leave Rex
* Rex’s defense of Erma when she is hateful to his kids
* Jeanette going along with her father’s pool hustle at the bar
13. In the film, the Walls kids find an old poem Rex wrote as a kid and near the end of his life, Jeanette quotes the poem back to Rex as a way for him to feel absolved for his parental shortcomings. She says, “It’s hard to breathe when you’re living in shit.” Jeanette is likely referring to Rex’s upbringing as the reason for so many of his struggles and demons. Do you agree or disagree that our problems and predicaments as adults are often the result of childhood trauma? If this is true, make a case for why Jeanette (and many of her siblings) were able to forge a different, more successful path in life? Wouldn’t it have been easy for Jeanette to blame her own “…living in shit” as an excuse to continue the cycle of poverty, abuse, and addiction she grew up with? How is she different than her dad and mom? How is she like them?
14. In a recent interview of her experience in writing the book and overseeing the movie production, Jeanette Walls shares that our power to overcome in life comes from our willingness to share our truth and essentially bring to light those things hidden in darkness that cause us pain or shame. Do you think seeing this movie might be difficult for some audience members to watch? Did the movie treat the content too sensitively in order to make for a more “warm and fuzzy” feeling for movie-goers? Do you think the truth of Walls’s life was under-characterized, over-characterized, or properly characterized?
15. The role of addiction is a major factor in much of the distress in Rex’s life in both the book and movie versions of The Glass Castle. The movie suggests that Rex’s problems as an adult are the result of abuse as a child as well as growing up in poverty. Throughout the movie, book, and all of his life, Rex fought his own demons. In your opinion are demons like these the result of external circumstances or internal turmoil? Why do troubles such as these often lead to addiction? Can addiction be overcome? What might have helped Rex to make lasting changes in his life? Can a person truly change who he is? Defend your answer.
16. On a scale of 1-10, with one being the least successful and ten being the most successful, how would you rate the overall adaptation of The Glass Castle from book to screen? Defend your assessment with at lease three solid reasons why.
17. The story of The Glass Castle is a narrative of extremes. There is the extreme between chaos and order; between Jeanette’s childhood poverty and adulthood wealth. In literature there are other polarizing extremes often used to help tell a story: light vs. darkness; good vs. evil; triumph vs. pain. Did you spot any other extremes presented in the film version of the story?
18. According to the movie, Jeanette was never able to completely divorce herself from her family; but by the conclusion, she’d decided she no longer wanted to. The toxicity that ensued when her parents were around was something that both the book and movie made abundantly clear. Do you think Jeanette Walls would have been as personally and professionally successful as she has been if she had not been shaped by her childhood experiences of trauma, neglect, abuse, and personal resilience? Why or why not?
19. If you had to pick one or the other, and couldn’t say “ a little of both,” would you classify Rex as a hero or a villain? One could argue that acts like dunking your child’s head under water, stealing from your children, not feeding your children, and exposing your children to other forms of neglect and abuse are awfully villainous. However, others might argue that giving your child the gift of a planet, paying her remaining tuition bill with gambling money, and teaching your child to know herself are heroic qualities. If you had to peg Rex as one or the other, which would it be? Defend your answer.
20. Complete the following sentence with the best choice and defend your answer with examples from movie. The Glass Castle is a story about _________________________.