Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Face of Another, the novel

Kobo Abe'
The Face of Another

 This is the novel that is the basis for the film of the same name which I commented on a short time ago.  While Kobo Abe' is also credited with being the screenwriter for the film, there are some differences between the film and the novel.  The anonymous narrator is a research scientist whose face has been disfigured in a laboratory accident.  When he leaves his house, he wears bandages that cover his entire head, much like the hero/villain in H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man.  He has been unable to reconcile himself to his condition and to a considerable extent takes his anger out on his wife.  He decides to create a life-like mask which will allow him to lead a more or less normal life.

The novel is a 1st person narrative, ostensibly coming from three notebooks the anonymous narrator has written for his wife in which he speaks throughout directly to her.    The three notebooks cover the time when he decides to create the mask, the period when he is involved in creating the mask, and the events that follow his creation of the mask.  In the film, the psychiatrist actually creates the mask and is a very significant character throughout, whereas in the novel, the psychiatrist plays a very minor role and the narrator is the one who creates the mask.

Since much of the novel is actually the narrator's thoughts about his situation as he considers, creates, and wears the mask, Abe' obviously decided the best way for the film to portray this would be through the interaction between the narrator and another person, the psychiatrist being the most obvious.  Another difference is that in the film, the relationship with his wife, while bad, does not seem to carry the same importance that it does in the novel.  In the novel, as I mentioned above, the three notebooks, which constitute the novel, are written for and directed to his wife.  In the notebooks, he addresses her throughout and seems totally unconcerned about any other person.  In the film it appears as though his most significant relationship is with the psychiatrist who plays only a very minor role in the novel. 

The dominant theme in the novel is the struggle within the narrator to maintain control of events and not turn it over to the mask.  He is obsessed by the thought that the mask is trying to take over his life, and this becomes especially clear in the third notebook or the last part of the novel when the mask is completed and he wears it.  At first he treats it as though it were a separate entity--when he wears the mask outside for the first time, he says he will take it for a walk, as if it's a dog.  However, this attitude changes over time until he becomes convinced that the mask is trying to control him and that he must struggle to maintain his freedom of action. 

The Face of Another is an intense psychological drama in which we see the internal struggle of a damaged human being, damaged both physically and psychologically. The endings of the novel and the film are quite different;  at least that is how it appears to me.  Others may differ.

I found that watching the film and reading the novel to be rather intense experiences, but I felt that I had to continue on to see where they were going. I'm not sure that I understand the ending, if there is one.  

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