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Posts Tagged ‘The Seagull’

I was looking at the television listings a few days back (Yes, I am a dinosaur like that. In this age of Netflix, I still look at television listings) and I discovered that a movie called ‘The Seagull‘ was playing in the evening. Without doing any research, I knew immediately that it must be the film adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s play. It was a new film, from last year (2018). I was surprised because I didn’t know that a film adaptation of a Chekhov play had come out recently. Why didn’t it get to the theatres? Why haven’t I heard of it before? Why haven’t any of my friends watched it before and recommended it to me? – I wondered. I was also very excited. Very very. I saved the movie when it played, and decided to read the play first before watching the movie. I read the play yesterday and watched the movie today.

The Play

The story narrated in ‘The Seagull‘ happens in a countryside estate. Konstantin is a young man who lives in the estate, which is owned by his uncle, Sorin. Konstantin is planning to stage a play in the evening for his friends and family members who are around. His beloved Nina, who lives in the nearby estate, will be playing the role of the main character in the play. Konstantin’s mother Irina, who is a famous actress, is present with her lover, the famous writer, Trigorin. There is the estate overseer Shamraev and his wife Polina, and their daughter Masha, who is in love with Konstantin. There are also Dorn, the doctor, and Medvedenko, the teacher, who is in love with Masha. The play starts and it is beautiful and powerful and Nina plays her part wonderfully, but Konstantin’s mother laughs and mocks at the play, and Konstantin gets so discouraged that he stops the play halfway. Meanwhile, Nina, who is a big admirer of Trigorin’s works, meets him for the first time and is totally smitten by him. It appears to be love at first sight. So, this day, which starts beautifully, turns out to be a fateful day in the lives of these characters, and this fateful day impacts their lives in unexpected ways. Does the love of Konstantin and Nina survive the attraction of Trigorin? What happens to the relationship between Irina and her son Konstantin? What happens to Masha? Is she able to get together with Konstantin or does she accept Medvedenko’s love? Do the characters in the story find happiness, or is it all unrequited love? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

So, what do I think about the play? I liked it very much. It has the typical Russian setting – people staying in a countryside estate where the events start nicely and pleasantly, when suddenly all kinds of things happen and there are deep undercurrents in the story. There are some beautiful lines in the story, which I went back and read again. One of my favourites is a conversation between Nina and Trigorin about being a writer which was very beautiful. I read somewhere that this was Tolstoy’s favourite part of the play, and it was definitely one of my favourites too.

This is the second Chekhov play I have read after ‘Three Sisters‘. I liked ‘The Seagull‘ very much. It grew on me as I continued reading and I liked it more and more, as I read and re-read my favourite passages. I liked most of the characters in ‘The Seagull’ but Nina was my favourite. She was so beautifully portrayed by Chekhov. But Chekhov was democratic and he gave good lines to every character to speak – even the doctor Dorn speaks some beautiful lines.

The Movie

So now, about the movie. The movie is mostly faithful to the play. A few scenes and some of the dialogue have been rearranged to improve the dramatic effect, but otherwise, it is like watching a faithful film version of the play. The movie has a stellar cast. There is Annette Bening (as Irina), Saoirse Ronan (as Nina), Elizabeth Moss (as Masha), Mare Winningham (as Polina), Corey Stoll (as Trigorin). The casting is so perfect and each of the members of the cast delivers a wonderful performance. Annette Bening is brilliant as Irina and it is hard to love her and it is hard to hate her. Saoirse Ronan is perfect as Nina – I don’t know whether anyone else could have played that role better. Corey Stoll as Trigorin is wonderful and that conversation that Nina and Trigorin have is beautifully depicted in the movie. Billy Howle as Konstantin is very good too. When towards the end of the movie, Nina tells Konstantin, “Remember how good it was before? Everything was so simple and clear. Humans. Lions. Eagles and partridges. Horned deer” and he repeats that after her, it pulled my heartstrings and I cried. It was heartbreaking.

I loved ‘The Seagull‘, both the play version and the film adaptation. This is one occasion where I can say that it doesn’t matter whether we read the play or watch the movie, because both of them are essentially the same thing. In some ways the movie might be better because the performances are rich and exquisite, and the story comes alive beautifully on the screen.

I will leave you with one of my favourite conversations from the play, between Nina and Trigorin. It is quite long and so if you are planning to read it now, get a hot cup of coffee or tea or hot chocolate, sit down and relax, and get started. Happy reading!

Nina : I would like to be in your shoes.

Trigorin : What for?

Nina : To find out how it feels to be a famous talented writer. How does fame feel? How do you realize that you’re famous?

Trigorin : How? Nohow I suppose. I never thought about it. It’s either-or : either you’re exaggerating my fame or there’s no real way to realize it.

Nina : But what about seeing your name in the papers?

Trigorin : If it’s praise, I feel good, and if it’s a scolding, then I’m in a bad mood for a couple of days.

Nina : The world’s amazing! How I envy you, if you only knew! People’s fates are so different. Some people can barely crawl through their boring, obscure existence, the same as everyone else, all unhappy; still others, like you, for instance – you’re one in a million are granted a life that’s interesting, brilliant, meaningful… You’re happy…

Trigorin : Am I? Hm…You stand here talking about fame, happiness, a brilliant, interesting life, but to me it sounds sweet and gooey, sorry, just like marshmallows, which I never eat. You’re very young and very kind.

Nina : Your life is so beautiful!

Trigorin : What’s so especially good about it? …You’ve stepped on my pet corn, as the saying goes, and now I’m starting to get upset and a little bit angry. All right, let me make a statement. Let’s talk about my beautiful, brilliant life…Well, now, where shall we begin? Some people are obsessive compulsives, a person who thinks all the tine, for instance, about the moon, well, I have my own particular moon. All the time, I’m obsessed with one compulsive thought : I have to write, I have to write, I have to…I’ve barely finished one story, when already for some reason I have to write another, then a third, after the third a fourth…I write nonstop, like an express train, and I can’t help it. What’s so beautiful and brilliant about that, I ask you? Oh, what an uncivilized way of life! I’m here talking to you, I’m getting excited, but meanwhile I never forget there’s a story of mine waiting to be finished. I see that cloud over there, that looks like a grand piano. I think : have to refer to that somewhere in a story, a cloud drifted by that looked like a grand piano. I catch a whiff of heliotrope, I instantly reel it in on my moustache : cloying smell, widow’s color, refer to it in describing a summer evening. I’m angling in myself and you for every phrase, every word, and I rush to lock up all these words and phrases in my literary icebox : some time or other they’ll come in handy! When I finish work, I run to the theatre or go fishing; should be able to relax there, forget myself, oh, no, a heavy cannonball has started rolling around in my head – a new subject, and I’m drawn back to my desk, hurry, hurry, write, write. And so it goes forever and ever and ever, and I know no peace, and I feel that I’m devouring my own life, that to give away honey to somebody out there in space I’m robbing my finest flowers of their pollen, tearing up those flowers and trampling on their roots. Wouldn’t you say I’m crazy? Surely my friends and relatives don’t behave as if I were sane? “What are you puttering with now? What will you give us next?” The same old same old, and I start thinking that this friendly attention, praise, admiration – it’s all a plot, they’re humoring me like an invalid, and sometimes I’m afraid that they’re just on the verge of creeping up behind me, grabbing me and clapping me into a straitjacket, like the madman in Gogol’s story. And years ago, the years of my youth, my best years, when I was starting out, my writing was sheer agony. A second-rate writer, especially when luck isn’t with him, sees himself as clumsy, awkward, irrelevant, his nerves are shot, frayed; he can’t help hanging around with people connected with literature and art, unrecognized, unnoticed by anyone, afraid to look them boldly in the face, like a compulsive gambler who’s run out of money. I couldn’t visualize my reader, but for that very reason he loomed in my imagination as hostile, suspicious. I was afraid of the public, it terrified me, and every time a new play of mine managed to get produced, I thought the dark-haired spectators disliked it, while the fair-haired spectators couldn’t care less. Oh, it’s awful! Excruciating!

Nina : I’m sorry, but surely inspiration and the creative process itself must provide sublime moments of happiness?

Trigorin : Yes. When I’m writing it’s nice enough. And correcting the proofs is nice too, but…it’s barely come of the presses when I can’t stand it, and can see that it’s not right, a mistake, that it shouldn’t have been written just that way, and I’m annoyed, feel rotten inside…Then the public reads it : “Yes, charming, talented…Charming, but a far cry from Tolstoy,” or “Lovely piece of work, but not upto Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons.” And so until my dying day all I’ll hear is charming and talented, charming and talented –, and when I die, my friends will file past my grave and say, “Here lies Trigorin. He wasn’t so bad as a writer, but no Turgenev.”

Nina : Forgive me, I refuse to accept that. You’re simply spoiled by success.

Have you read ‘The Seagull‘ or seen the recent film adaptation? What do you think about it?

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