The film adaptation of Delia Owens’ 2018 novel Where The Crawdads Sing about an abandoned girl who brings herself up in the marshland of North Carolina, is a work of wondrous magic, although not on the same passionate scale of heightened imagination as the original novel.
But then, when is the film adaptation ever as good as the novel? Even Gone With The Wind was not close to Margaret Mitchell’s novel. The movie version of Where The Crawdads Sing doesn’t tamper with the original material. It doesn’t want to say more or less than what the novel did about growing up in isolation without parental guidance. The film just wants to say as much as the novel. In that endeavor it is stunning in its precision.
Daisy Edgar Jones who plays Kya aka ‘The Marsh Girl’, is the screen equivalent of a muted meteor. Kya has not seen much of the corruption in the world outside her pigeonholed paradise. When some of the filth outside hits her in her face, in the form of a treacherous male friend, Kya reels under the impact like an abandoned puppy which is kicked by a trusted stranger for the first time.
Young Ms Edgar Jones is the living embodiment of Kya in Delia Owens’ novel. She is tender and vulnerable on the outside but knows how to hit back hard when needed. Director Olivia Newman who was amply adept at showing a young woman wrestling power from a patriarchal platform in her first film First Match in 2018, digs deeper into the same theme in this, her sophomore investment.
Coleman makes Kya’s survival all alone in the wilderness a challenge to the girl’s sense of self, but it is also a way of looking at life for any girl, no matter what her social condition, struggling to make her voice heard. Whether it is her abused mother or her supportive boyfriend Tate (Taylor John Smith) eventually Kya is on her own, although it is never really clear why. When her mothers and siblings left one by one, why didn’t they take Kya, the youngest among them? A fatal blindspot in the narrative that we must overlook as artistic license, as there is so much to celebrate and appreciate in this enchanting excursion to the heart of the wilderness. A reverse view of Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
The frames are composed like streetside art, accurate and ambrosial in a temporal way. This is the kind of art that will get the artist admiring glances from passersby on the pavement but no one will take it home. Where The Crawdads Sing is an ideal one-time watch. But its shimmering purposely achieved shallowness precludes any repeat value. I am saying repeat value, not recall value, for the film does keep taking us back to some of its key moments shot in an sheen of designer angst by cameraman incredible Polly Morgan who shot the pensive chilling horror in A Quiet Place.
Where The Crawdads Sing is also about a quiet place, hidden away from the heat and bustle of the city where once upon a time there lived a girl named Kya. And we know the rest.
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.
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