Font to Film: “The Sun Also Rises”

While it is always impressive to see the latest best-sellers turn into big-screen epics with even bigger budgets and loads of special effects, it’s easy to forget that many of the great literary classics also got the box office treatment. A lot of books that are still relevant today were made into films so long ago that the current generation of readers probably wouldn’t recognize the stars that brought the original text to life. Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises offers us a great example of a work that has had the honor of being appreciated and dissected in multiple formats and across decades of social and cultural change.

The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926, and has been celebrated as a quintessential representation of the idea of the Lost Generation—those individuals who came of age during World War I. Hemingway introduces us to a number of complex characters, including narrator Jake Barnes and the free-spirited Lady Brett Ashley, whose relationship is central to many of the novel’s themes relating to love and shifting views on sexuality. Barnes served in the war, and suffered an injury which left him impotent and therefore unable to consummate a relationship with Lady Ashley, whose own frustrated feelings for Barnes lead her to indulge haphazardly in a series of affairs and meaningless relationships. The two travel from Paris to Spain with several other expatriates, friends of theirs—mostly writers—who exemplify the aimlessness and desperation of the generation that Hemingway is praised for capturing so well. With Barnes’ injury, Lady Ashley’s conquests, and the portrayals of other male characters which include drunks, hangers-on, and bullfighters, The Sun Also Rises has a lot to say about masculinity in particular, and a critical reader will find a lot to digest and appreciate.
One thing that most critics agree on regarding the 1957 film version of The Sun Also Rises is that it is a fairly faithful adaptation of the events in the novel. In a way it’s almost surreal to see scenes and dialogue replicated to such a degree; at times it seems that the film suffers from trying to maintain the pacing of a novel, dragging in places it should not, particularly in the first hour. That said, when the pace picks up and the cast is out in force the film is noticeably better; the second half benefits from a more compelling setting and an improved chemistry between the actors. But despite strong performances from Ava Gardner as Lady Ashley and Errol Flynn as the drunkard Mike Campbell, the film’s casting is perhaps its weakest point. As many have pointed out, the actors chosen for the film are at least a decade too old to be truly believable representations of Hemingway’s characters, creating an experience similar to watching a movie about high school students played by actors in their thirties. The Lost Generation’s wandering purposelessness seems less romantic in those already well past middle age; still, the film manages to reproduce a good deal of the existential heft that makes the novel such an important cultural touchstone.

Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library as part of the adult and young adult collections, and is also available as an audiobook. The film is available at Foster as part of a collection which includes several other screen adaptations of Hemingway’s work. If the item you are interested in is not on the shelf at your local branch, you can request for a copy to be delivered to your home branch in person, over the phone, or online through our catalog.


Laid out by Ronald Martin.