Comparison and Contrast of the Novel and the Film “The Kiss of the Spider Woman”
The novel “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” by Manuel Puig is about Valentin Arregui and Luis Molina who are inmates in a prison cell. Valentin is a journalist who has been imprisoned due to his revolutionary activities and who has been tortured so the government can extract information about his leftist group. Molina, on the other hand, is a window dresser who has been jailed due to his homosexual activities and who has been retelling stories that he saw in the movies to Valentin all throughout the story for entertainment.
The same story has been translated into film and like any other translation; the original is either highlighted or obscured by the adaptation. Indeed, the film “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” directed by Hector Babenco has assumed authorial control from the novel because of its imaginative enhancement of the scenes, characterization, point of view, and visual language which are non-existent in the original work.
Since the film is adapted from the novel, the similarities that exist between the two versions include the elements of setting, characters, plot, and style. The setting of the novel and the movie is inside a South American prison cell. Likewise, both the novel and the film present the same main characters who are Valentin and Molina and the same minor characters who are the Warden, Marta, Leni, a German Officer, the Spider Woman, and Gabriel. Moreover, the same plot summary is seen in the two versions. There also similar stories which Molina narrated. These stories are about a Mexican movie, a Nazi movie and the story of the Spider Woman. In addition, the style of using dialogue in the novel is generally utilized in the film.
Furthermore, the novel and the film talk about parallel themes on escapism, fantasy, homosexuality, political activism and prison life. The film and the novel both show that Molina uses the stories to escape the harsh reality of being in prison. In the film, Molina says “Why should I think about reality in a stink hole like this? And why should I get more depressed than I am?” In Molina’s stories, he fantasizes to be the woman protagonist. He even reiterates “I am a woman. I have everything a woman has and more.” This leads to the theme on homosexuality. The novel and the movie show how homosexuals like Molina feel about society’s acceptance of them. The film and the novel also focus on political activism which is represented by Valentin and his ideas on a revolution that will change the world. He says “Social revolution, that’s what’s important, and gratifying the senses is only secondary” in the novel. Both versions also illustrate the life of a prisoner which includes torture, eating awful prison food, and limited freedom.
However, despite the aforementioned similarities between the novel and the film, the differences stand. These include the opening scenes, the stories told by Molina, the time allotted to the stories Molina narrated, the behavioral changes of Valentin, the sex scene, the ending scene, the point of view, the overall emphasis, and the visual language which are discussed below.
First, the opening scenes of the novel and the film differ a lot. The novel begins with a conversation between Valentin and Molina inside a prison cell as Molina is narrating the story of Irina the panther woman. Meanwhile, the film begins with a sweeping glance of a South American harbor, a bar district and a restaurant where Molina is talking to a woman carrying a baby on her lap and a little boy beside her. After talking to the woman, he talks with Gabriel who gives him tea. Later, Molina and Gabriel are walking towards the bus stop. Gabriel rides a bus; Molina sees a group of teenagers and one of them stares at him. A day after that, he was arrested by the police because of that boy’s complaints against him.
Second, the film has omitted the stories that Molina told Valentin. The stories in the novel which are no longer found in the film include the story of the Panther Woman and the Zombie Woman. The Panther Woman story is told in Chapter 1 while the Zombie Woman story is found in the Chapter 9 of the novel.
Third, the movie quickly narrates the story of the spider woman while the novel spends more time describing it. In the movie, the story was cut short after Molina became emotional as he says “When he awoke, he gazed up at the Spider woman and saw a perfect tear slide from under her mask”. But in the novel, more pages are allotted for its storytelling.
Fourth, the novel illustrates Valentin’s unstable and changing attitudes toward Molina but the movie demonstrates the gradual change of Valentin’s behavior. In Chapter 1 of the novel, Valentin is not hostile to Molina and he listens to his storytelling. But he abruptly changes his attitude, he becomes angry with Molina and he also criticizes his preoccupation with movies in Chapter 4. Valentin also gets mad at Molina when the latter tries to tell him what to do in Chapter 10. On the other hand, the movie shows that Valentin is at first antagonistic to Molina. He was also unreceptive of Molina’s storytelling. However, at the later part Valentin becomes interested with Molina and with his stories. Eventually, he softened his heart for Molina and they became lovers.
Fifth, the sex scene in the movie is not as obvious as it is described in the novel. The movie gives an idea that Valentin and Molina have sex through the actions of Valentin in removing his shirt and in putting off the candle, through their small talk such as “No, wait, let me lift my legs” and “It’s better if it’s quiet” and through the screen turning all black. However, the novel describes in Chapter 12 that Valentin and Molina have sex which proceeds to Chapter 13 where Molina wishes to die because he has achieved his dreams.
Sixth, the ending scene of the two versions is not the same. In the movie, the scene is transported to a jungle beach where Valentin and Marta are talking to each other and they kiss. In the novel, the thoughts of Valentin are described as he imagines that Marta is visiting him and is talking to him. Then, he feels that he is on the beach, he sees a flower and he sees a native girl.
Seventh, the point of view in the novel is different from that in the movie. In the movie, the audience can see through the mind of Molina in terms of his actions. He knows that he is being followed. But Chapter 15 of the novel does not reveal whether Molina knows if someone is watching him. It does not also disclose whether the money he took from the bank was given to his mother or to the revolutionary group.
Eight, the movie turns out to be more of a romantic story than a political story while the novel seems to emphasize more on the political aspect than romantic. The movie revolves around the love stories of Molina and Valentin and of Valentin and Marta not to mention the love stories in the three stories that Molina narrated. It also ends with Valentin’s dream where he says “I love you” to Marta and they kiss. In contrast, the novel focuses more on the political climate during the 1970s when the government would capture anyone who is suspected to be involved in subversive activities and would use every possible means to make political prisoners talk with the use of torture.
Lastly, the visual language in the movie allows the viewers to fill in the gaps in the novel. For example, in the novel the setting is not revealed directly. It can only be interpreted from the dialogues of Valentin and Molina such as: “Yes, I filled it up when they let us out (emphasis mine) to the lavatory” and “I forgot to fetch some when they let us out (emphasis mine) to shower”. But in the movie, the setting is directly seen.
In conclusion, the foregoing reasons show that when an original work is translated into another medium, something will be changed, omitted or added. The film version “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” has creatively enhanced the story of the novel which makes it more enjoyable, more interesting, more compelling and more realistic and the movie has become the authoritative material of the story.
The Kiss of the Spider Woman. Director Hector Babenco. Performers William Hurt and Raul Julia. Film Dallas Pictures, 1985.
Puig, Manuel. The Kiss of the Spider Woman. New York, USA: Vintage Books. 1991.