Blue Is the Warmest Color: How Is the Movie Different From the Book?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Oct. 29 2013 4:15 PM

Blue Is the Warmest Color: How Is the Movie Different From the Book?

Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux in Blue Is the Warmest Color
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux in Blue Is the Warmest Color

Photo courtesy Wild Bunch/Sundance Selects

Two-fer Spoiler Alert: In case the headline wasn’t clear enough, this post contains spoilers from the book and the movie versions of Blue Is the Warmest Color.

In a recent conversation about adapting the graphic memoir Fun Home into a musical, playwright Lisa Kron told me, “You can't translate one thing into another form; you have to make a parallel work … that can exist on its own.” Adaptation is always a process of transformation, so it’s no surprise that Abdellatif Kechiche’s movie version of Blue Is the Warmest Color didn’t use Julie Maroh’s graphic novel as a storyboard. Still, it’s noteworthy that the most significant alteration was to reduce the impact of hatred and discrimination against lesbians.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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In terms of plotting, the biggest difference is that in the movie, Adèle—she’s Clementine in the book, but Kechiche wanted to use the actress’s name for the character—is still alive at the end. In Maroh’s novel she’s killed by homophobia—well, arterial pulmonary hypertension exacerbated by an addiction to pills that’s indirectly caused by homophobia.

Not that the word homophobia appears in the book, but we see how Clementine is left completely isolated when her school friends reject her once she starts to spend time with blue-haired Emma, and after her parents disown her when they learn of their love affair. She says, “Ever since that night when I was 17, when I was thrown out of my own house, the night when my father, wild with anger, said to me, ‘If you leave with her, you are no longer my daughter,’ I have not been at peace.”

In the movie, her family is ignorant but loving, and Adèle leaves anti-gay hatred behind once she graduates from high school. After that, her social circle seems to be completely accepting of her relationship with Emma, and she feels comfortable passionately kissing her girlfriend in public.

Instead of anti-gay animus, it’s class that comes between the movie’s lovers. In an interview with the director that was part of the film’s press notes, Kechiche said, “I had nothing militant to say about homosexuality.” Instead, “Each of my heroines is defined by her social class. The difficulties they have with their relationship, that which causes them to break up and ultimately what the film is about, is their class differences, since it generates a difference in their personal aspirations. It’s not at all their homosexuality, which would be more or less tolerated, or understood, by the world around them.”

It’s not that I demand that homophobia must be a plot point in every artistic depiction of gay life, and as a working-class woman, I’m overjoyed to see a movie examine the impact of class and prestige on interpersonal relationships. What’s more, if forced to choose between the two works of art, I’d pick Kechiche’s close-up examination of love and affection over the graphic novel’s tragic melodrama. Nevertheless, Kechiche’s claim that the two young women’s homosexuality would be tolerated and understood strikes me as wishful thinking or maybe even ignorance—especially since his Adèle earns her living as a schoolteacher. If only the world were so accepting.

See also: Dana Stevens’ review of the movie; Jeffrey Bloomer on why movie theaters should let (gay) teens see it, despite its NC-17 rating; and June Thomas on the post-Cannes spat between the director and the movie’s stars.

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