September 10, 2023 Log No. 1088

Finally understanding the plot of a movie I watched 12 years ago

Wow, I’m a little surprised I hadn’t posted anything since I moved to the house. Then again, this year seems to have passed by even quicker than usual. First it’s January and it’s a whirlwind of activity prepping for the move and coordinating the tail-end of the renovations…next thing you know, it’s September and we’ve been here for 8 months.

Just to provide a sense of closure: yes, we did it! We moved in!

If I were to summarize where we are now, I would say that we’re past the “fun getting stuff to fill up the extra space” phase and in the “what am I supposed to do now, thinking about this house has been my last 2 years” phase. Though make no mistake: there is still an endless stream of house stuff to do, and more renovations to eventually plan–it’s just kinda settled into the background.

I need a new foreground thing.

I’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern for now. The last few weeks, I’ve been reading more. (Every year, there’s usually a few times where I’m in a reading mood, and that’s when I churn out most of the books I read in a year. Other times, I feel like binging shows, playing games, etc. I guess you could say I “binge read”.) I try to balance books that take real effort against plot-based books that take a day to finish. What usually happens is that I finish an “effort” book that I had started months ago, zip through 2-3 quick ones, then start another “effort” book, wherein I lose momentum and let it sit…then in a few months, repeat.

The “effort” book isn’t always super high-brow literature either. This iteration, it was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which is technically a thriller. But it was SO slow-paced: the first 200 pages (aka first 2/3s of the book) were all exposition, so that you could then understand the last 1/3 of the book. I get that when the subject matter is counterintelligence double-crossing, and the main characters are NOT field agents a la James Bond, circumstances and nuances and “who spoke to who in the office that day” are very important, but I’m not convinced it needs 2/3s of the final story length. And when you finally have a grasp of who everyone is and why they’re important–it’s over! Now what am I supposed to do with all these names and relationships I studied hard to remember?!

I actually picked up this book because I had seen the movie in theaters back in 2011. In fact, I was so excited to see it, given the cast and reviews, that I convinced a group to go with me who probably would not have seen it otherwise. That proved to be a mistake, because the movie was so hard-to-follow and monotonous that none of us understood what was happening, despite all of us being competent movie-watchers. Needless to say, I did not hype up movies based purely on reviews to a large group again.

But I still didn’t want to accept that this highly-acclaimed movie with all these actors I liked was bad. So I bought the book a few years later, just to see if maybe, when the names were all statically presented to me for cross-reference, was it actually a coherent narrative with a good payoff?

To which I can now say: yes, it was coherent. The payoff was not bad. It just took so long to make me start caring.

After finishing the book, I took it full circle and re-watched the movie, to see how faithful it was now that I knew the source material. And also to see if there were details I missed the first time that did make it a strong movie on its own–all the critics and happy audience reviewers couldn’t have all read the book beforehand, right?

Verdict: it is a pretty faithful adaptation (except Gary Oldman is better-looking than George Smiley)…and there is no way a person who went in blind could understand what’s happening on first viewing. Some characters names are mentioned once in passing and never again (or you have no idea which of the many white British men on screen corresponds to that name), and flashbacks are thrown in without any clear indication it’s a flashback–in a plot where knowing the order of events is critical. It’d be impossible. BUT if you’re someone who’s read the book already, or willing to see the movie twice (and now I’m both!): movie’s okay. Solid 7/10.

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