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Adaptation Examination: Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)
It’s the age-old question: which is better, the book or the movie?
by Jess Hagy
It’s the age-old question…which is better? The book or the movie? For a seemingly straightforward story based in such an atmospheric location, set in the marshes and swamps of North Carolina, I’d have to say the movie has an edge this time around.
Where the Crawdads Sing, directed by Olivia Newman, is based off a globally popular and well-loved book of the same title, written by Delia Owens. It centers around a young woman named Kya (portrayed by the quietly brilliant Daisy Edgar-Jones) who lives alone out in the marshes. She is alienated and ostracized by everyone in town and society. After being abandoned by her family at a very young age, she figures out how to survive all on her own by her fascination with nature and making a few allies. Some of these allies include two boys from town, the sweet and docile Tate, and the town jock, Chase. Tate was a childhood friend of one of Kya’s brothers. The two form a very close relationship and even fall in love. When Tate must leave to go to college, Kya and Chase then begin a relationship. The plot then thickens when Chase is found dead in the marsh, having fallen (or been pushed) from a watch tower. The whole town then puts their sights on Kya as the main suspect for his murder.
Now, I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the book back when I read it during the height of COVID. And that puts me in the minority here. This book is deeply loved and spent many, many weeks at number 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. For me, the plot and characters all felt very two dimensional within sing-songy language (no pun intended). The book, along with the movie, is described and advertised as a mystery/thriller and, to put it simply, it’s not one. Yes, there is a murder, and you go through the story wondering who committed it, but this is by far the central focus. It’s basically just a romance with a slight edge to it. (Very reminiscent of Nicholas Sparks back in his heyday). What the movie does well is not bask in the “whodunit” of it all but depict a story of a resilient young woman who finds it within herself to keep surviving despite all the terrible hardships and people she has had to endure.
Another thing the movie has that the book unfortunately just can never attain, are the gorgeous visuals of the marsh. Having such a unique setting helps this movie immensely to be visually beautiful to watch. The nature and specifically the marsh become its own character. There are stunning shots of weeping willow trees and flocks of swans grazing just above the water with a prominently orange sunset as the backdrop. Kya has immense knowledge on the creatures of the marsh having co-habitated their land with them her whole life. So being able to see each individually different bird, turtle, or even insect helps flesh out the world and give the audience an understanding as to why Kya just doesn’t leave just like the rest of her family.
So if you have to choose whether to either read the book or just watch the movie, just save yourself some time and go with the movie. You’ll get all the same things out of the movie you would the book as well as get to see gorgeous landscapes and frames of marshy North Carolina.