Every Movie You Love is a Take on a Literary Classic

“If you think about it,” I said, two drinks in and very sage, “Kathleen Kelly IS Elizabeth Bennett.”

“Um,” said my manfriend, who has not read Pride and Prejudice

I was determined, though: “Kathleen preemptively decides that Joe Fox, by virtue of his cash and his disregard for independent booksellers, cannot possibly really care about books. Or readers.”

“Well,” said my manfriend, who hadn’t wanted to watch You’ve Got Mail in the first place.

I pressed on nonetheless, insisting that Joe Fox did Mr. Darcy one better on “proud” by not just telling Kathleen who he was at the coffee shop, and I wound up calling You’ve Got Mail an anti-capitalist, modern feminist take on the Jane Austen classic, without the annoying family and the monetary necessity of a convenient marriage. Kathleen Kelly is who Elizabeth Bennett would’ve been, if Elizabeth Bennett COULD inherit a family business and pursue her own dreams.

My partner conceded the point, but: it was a stretch. For one: You’ve Got Mail is actually based on The Shop Around the Corner, a classic film. For two, well: Pride and Prejudice is mentioned throughout You’ve Got Mail, and there are SOME similarities, but they are not intentional, Clueless-is-Emmalevel similarities.

I mostly just wanted to sound wise. And to persuade my manfriend to read Pride and Prejudice.

Isn’t that what movie and television takes on classics do for books, though? Even when the adaptation of the story isn’t direct. You love The Lion King; someone tells you that it’s based on Hamlet; you weren’t that interested in Shakespeare before, but now your curiosity is piqued, so you pick up the play. And you either love it or you don’t, but you know that you wouldn’t have gotten there in the first place without the strained comparison.

If literary critics like Christopher Booker are correct: there are only seven or so plot lines anyway, and all stories we ingest have to draw from that pile.  So maybe Bad Times at the El Royale IS connected to everything Agatha Christie, simply by virtue of its mysteriousness and ensemble cast. Wuthering Heights and Moonlight are both a little tragic; is it necessarily bad if you jump from one to the other based on whispers of similarities that someone else saw? I propose not.

So go ahead: insist that The Parent Trap was inspired by The Prince and the Pauperit may get someone reading Mark Twain.  Declare that Homeward Bound is the children’s version of Les Misérablesand stick to your guns when pressed.  The worst that happens is that someone ends up reading a book that they don’t actually love—and best case scenario, they love the recommended, “connected” book, too, whether the shadow of a similarity was a trick of the light or not.

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