Having the Same Name doesn’t make you the Same Person

My kids are quite young. One is in second grade, the other has recently started in Kindergarten a few days a week. As a parent this is a fascinating time because I can watch their horizons expand on an almost day to day basis. Things that we as adults take for granted are as yet completely undiscovered by the kids, and there’s some joy and occasionally a little hilarity when they discover something new.

Although names can work a little different in some cultures, in ours it’s fairly common for our given name to be, well, not exactly unique. Instead, it often has some history or meaning to it that seemed appropriate to our parents at the time and, perhaps, goes on to shape us a little as we age (which I’m sure is an engrossing subject in itself). At three years old, though, there’s a very good chance we’ve never met anyone else with our given names. So what went through our heads that first time? Did we for a moment wonder if they were us? I somehow doubt it; I think that at most, we only sensed some kindred bond (or, if the other person was annoying, perhaps a small sense of betrayal).

So I find it amusing when I catch myself expecting other things with the same name to be the same.

Recently, I had the good fortune to watch the recent Les Misérables film on bluray. The musical has been a favourite of mine since the 1980’s, when I studied it for a month before watching the original production on tour. I have the musical on CD (well, transferred to MP3 these days) and could probably sing through almost the entire musical from memory. The prospect of adding massive setpieces to the musical and stepping beyond the stage was more than a little alluring, and so it was with high hopes that I sat down to watch it.

Well, as you might imagine, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Yes, there’s some great imagery, and getting closer to the performers than you can at a theatre certainly opened up more room for appreciating the performance. But… it was different.

They added a song. They cut some parts out. They changed some words here and there. One part that stood out towards the end, which I couldn’t get my head around, was the duet between Cosette and Marius which, in the musical, includes these verses:

Cosette: Every day, you walk with stronger step, you walk with longer step, the worst is over.

Marius: Every day, I wonder every day, who was it brought me here from the barricade.

Cosette: Don’t think about it Marius, with all the years ahead of us, I will never go away, and we will be together every day.

In the musical, this verse structure makes sense: Cosette says something about Marius’ condition, Marius takes that and turns it to show his ongoing frustration at not really knowing why he’s the only one left alive from the barricade, and Cosette responds, trying to ease his mind (and demonstrating she doesn’t really understand what’s bugging him). It’s touching, it’s characters talking across purposes, and in my opinion it works.

In the film, this same duet is sung, except… they cut out Marius’ verse above. Now, Cosette says something, and then she answers herself, and it doesn’t even make sense. Seriously? Did they cut this because they needed to make the film four seconds shorter?

And don’t even get me started on Russell Crowe’s singing.

So things like this bugged me, and it took perhaps a day for me to come to a realisation.

Having the Same Name doesn’t make it the Same Story.

Together, the film and musical can form a larger, more complete story in our heads. They’re complimentary; visuals from the film, or Anne Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream add to and inform our enjoyment of the story in its other media.

It was probably a good realisation to come to about then, since a few days later I finally got around to watching the film version of one of the books I most enjoyed reading recently.

So when Cloud Atlas showed grim determination at staying, well, vaguely related to the novel I wasn’t quite so annoyed. If anything, it reaffirmed my appreciation of the original story in its written form.

Which makes me think I should probably read a certain novel by Victor Hugo one of these days…


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