As a novel Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) is structured in chapters with each bearing the name of a character who features in the story. Following this structure the plotting of the novel returns to the same events in different chapters, changing the prominence of characters and with situations recurring and repeating from different viewpoints, giving the novel comic distance. Catch-22 is a novel where the overall linearity, the story as a unified plot, is something which only the reader constructs. For an adaptation of the book to film the temptation is to construct a linear plot and so offer a story with a dominant central character, through line and dramatic arc. This looses the chaos and anarchy which is embodied in the kaleidoscopic structure of the novel and its essential emotional effect: a linear adaptation with a dominant central story is effectively a poor adaptation of the book. The structure and length of the novel is not suitable to adapt for a short form film, a feature film, unless one is willing to loose many characters and events, so telling just a section of the book will the result or else the story will compendium of events mirroring those in the book in shortened and less significant from: in the novel minor events for one character are major events for another character. To adapt the whole book for the long form drama, as television series, one might avoid the construction of a dominate single and linear plot and use the structure of the book to have each episode of the television show feature a different character and retell and repeat events. This is possible, but a chaotic structure with a de-centered protagonist is a feature of the modernist novel and this highlights differences between film and prose storytelling in the 20th Century. Filmmakers have worked with the fragmented story and a particular example of this would be the work of the director Nicolas Roeg with films such as Performance (1970), Don't Look Now (1973), Walkabout (1971), and Bad Timing (1980). Here the plot/character fragmentation represents and is justified due to the characters disorientated psychological states, which in fact matches the psychological stresses of the characters in war novels such as Catch-22 (Heller) and Slaughterhouse 5 (Vonnegut). What problematizes the adaptation of Catch-22 as a psychological story is the conception or anticipation that a war film will be a social drama centered on conceptions of correct moral action and the issue of personal bravery: the war film is conventionally a social film and realist drama, rather than a psychological representation of wartime experience. The television series Legion (2017-2019) offers a recurring and returning to repeat story events, re-experiencing them, and this might offer a model for an adaptation of Catch-22. A TV series can be chaotic and confusing from episode, but again, as with the films of Nicola Roeg the explanation and justification for this narrative structure is that it represent the viewpoint and experience of psychologically damaged character and social specificity is lost. Legion presents aberration and abnormal events displacing its narrative from a normative moral reality which return to the limitations placed on Catch-22 is the intention is to present it as a war film. The horror film is the genre where aberration is most accepted and while it is a very popular genre it is coded also coded as exceptional to standards of normality and non-realist: monsters, the unnatural, the uncanny, the supernatural being story elements that are not part of real life.
Copyright: Eugene Doyen 2019