It’s difficult to turn a book, mostly written through internal thoughts of the main character, into a film. How I Live Now, while not falling short in acting or cinematography, does leave some plot holes that are never fully explained.
In the film adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, Daisy, played by Saoirse Ronan, is an American girl in the English countryside. She’s angry at the world and at herself. Her father is too busy with his new family to help her through some of the internal issues that she is facing and sends her to live with her aunt and step-cousins in a small town. Her bitterness and her constant self-criticism cause her to lash out at her cousins and avoid their attempts to befriend her. With the introduction of a love interest, Edmond, played by George MacKay, she begins to soften. He shows her the compassion and affection that she had been looking for.
But her silenced thoughts and her peaceful moments don’t last. A bomb falls, signalling the beginning of the Third World War. The boys and girls are separated, dragged off to different parts of the country. Her love for Edmond and for her cousins results in her breaking out of the camp in an effort to find her new family.
The movie is full of amazing views of the English countryside; rolling hills and thick forests. The acting by Ronan is an accurate portrayal of a young girl putting aside her own turmoil to take care of others, to grow into a strong woman. The characters are realistic.
While the majority of the movie was entertaining and left the viewers with a sense of hope, it also left some people puzzled on some key points.
We never know who is part of the war, who started it or how it ended. There are hints of chaos in England, which are both graphic and emotional. However, the battle scenes are almost non-existent and it makes you question the reach that the “world war” actually has. While this sense of confusion might have worked in the print version of the story, it doesn’t translate seamlessly into film.
Another aspect that gets lost in the progression from book to movie is the cause of Daisy’s inner turmoil. We also never know exactly what is going on with her, why she needed the medication she takes at the beginning of the film. Also, the jumbled voice-overs are confusing and never fully explained. The scenes that have her taking doctor-prescribed medication and staring at herself in the mirror for prolonged periods of time, only hint at her possible body issues. Viewers are left to assume that she struggled with an eating disorder or some other form of struggle with her body, but this is never fully developed.
The script falls short in terms of giving the characters depth and this overshadows all the good aspects of the film. The potential for the movie was lost in translation. Books cannot always be great screenplays and I believe that How I Live Now is a perfect example of that.