What has “Station Eleven” changed from the book and why

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The first minutes of “Station eleven” takes place during a play. When an actor suddenly interrupts his lines and collapses, Jeevan, played by Himesh Patel, jumps out of his seat and rushes onto the stage to help. “He’s having a heart attack,” he says.

This scene is also the opening of the book on which the HBO Max series is based. In the 2014 bestseller, Jeevan is featured as a paramedic in training, which is why he is able to recognize symptoms and begin CPR. Onscreen, however, Jeevan has yet to make such a career change; instead, he calls for a doctor while helplessly watching the collapsed actor.

It’s a small but important adjustment, says series creator Patrick Somerville. “He’s this guy who wants to help other people but isn’t equipped to do it. To help the audience be present for his journey with him, it made much more sense that his dream of becoming a healer began in a moment that we can look at ourselves, not something that happened years ago. weeks we have to tell you about in an exhibition scene later.

On screen and on the page, “Station Eleven” spans numerous timelines before, during, and after a devastating pandemic that nearly wipes out mankind. Finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN / Faulkner Award, the book has sold over a million copies and has been translated into 33 languages. It remained a hot buy as COVID-19 spread around the world, even though its author, Emily St. John Mandel, told The Times in March 2020: “I wouldn’t recommend reading ‘Station Eleven’ in the middle of a pandemic.”

Adjustments are inevitable in any adaptation of the spine to the screen, and this 10-episode series “deviates considerably [from the book] in details, events, characters and characterizations, ”writes Times critic Robert Lloyd, who also considered one of the best shows of the year. “He jumps between periods to build relationships and motivations between the characters and to plant the seeds of coincidence that will bloom until closing.”

Somerville got Mandel’s blessing on the adaptation’s major changes, as the series premiered without his participation. “I think we both agreed that it would be healthy and make more sense for our lives and the creative process to wall it off,” Somerville said of his meeting with Mandel.

Himesh Patel and Matilda Lawler play a surprising duet in “Station Eleven”.

(Parrish Lewis / HBO Max)

“As a novelist and TV screenwriter, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen bad things happen to books that I love,” he adds. “A lot of times producers think you can just do an individual mapping of a novel into a script, and you just can’t. I love the book so much and wanted to do it justice, and I really liked the idea of ​​the adaptation being done at a high standard in order to protect something of value.

Throughout the process, the creative team prioritized the expectations of the broad readership of “Station Eleven”. “The bar is incredibly high, not just in the casting and the storytelling, but also in the details: how do you do those things, that someone has just written from their imagination, functional and real on screen. ? Says executive producer Jessica Rhoades. “Authors everywhere are creating things, but in fact, you don’t have to make a choice about how they look. We had to make these decisions knowing that the book-loving audience is waiting to see what we have chosen.

The changes are evident throughout the first three episodes, now airing on HBO Max. For example, much of the action takes place in Chicago, where Somerville lived for nine years, rather than in Toronto, Mandel’s hometown, because “the architecture of this city speaks to the uniqueness of the places of episode 1 ”. (Ironically, after all productions were cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “Station Eleven” was able to resume filming – in Toronto.)

Readers may be taken aback by Jeevan’s association with Kirsten (Matilda Lawler), a child actress in the aforementioned play who is unable to locate her parents, for many fundamental scenes. “In the book, the experience of the chaos of the pandemic is entirely internal and independent, but telling a story this way on television is not very interesting,” says Somerville.

“We also needed the show to be funny at times – not to talk about tragedies but more to get the tone that we needed to make people feel safe – and it’s an absolutely comical setup to have two people doing it. don’t know each other well, or have different ideas about what is right and wrong, have to work together to get somewhere.

A woman in a blue outfit is sitting at a table.

Miranda (Danielle Deadwyler) has a new backstory for the screen.

(Warrick / HBO page)

Additionally, the third episode details a backstory and a thriller-like fate for Miranda (Danielle Deadwyler), the creator of the fictional graphic novel from which Mandel’s novel and the HBO series Max take their name. It was all invented specifically for the screen.

“We started from scratch with Miranda to find out where she’s coming from and how this graphic novel is incredibly grounded in her character,” Somerville said of the comic which shares the series title. “We wanted to show the life of an artist and not do it suspiciously. At the end of the day, to us, she feels like a real person.

What’s on screen is what Rhoades considers “the truest form of coping,” she says. “When you tell someone about a book you’re reading, you don’t really tell them what it’s about in terms of the plot; you tell them how you feel, what you like and what it makes you think about and how it makes you think about your own life. I think the same goes for the series, in that it makes you feel everything you feel when reading the book.

This feeling is one of an unlikely yet undeniable hope that stems from a shared artistic experience, whether it’s reading a book, watching a TV show, or whatever. “I hope people will take comfort in turning to art to get through things, as we have been doing throughout this pandemic,” Rhoades said. “Whatever thing makes you feel comfortable and secure and connects you to other people, it’s the thing that matters. “

“Station eleven”

Or: HBO Max

When: Whenever

Rated: TV-MA (may not be suitable for children under 17)


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