“The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”
Based on the book of the same name by Jennifer Niven and directed by Brett Haley, All The Bright Places follows two high school students – Theodore Finch (Justice Smith) and Violet Markey (Elle Fanning) – who meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school. At first, it’s unclear who saves whom, but when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.
All The Bright Places is an emotion-led young adult drama with likeable characters and an endearing message. As a book adaptation, there are some bigger issues that the film doesn’t face, but it does reflect on its issues of mental illness and tragedy relatively well, with sincere performances and a powerful message of finding the light in the darkest of times.
For the most part, the film is a decent adaptation of Jennifer Niven‘s young adult book, but my main problem with it is that it doesn’t focus on Finch’s depression/mental illness well enough. It says on the cover of the book that this is a story about “a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die”, but the film doesn’t show this side to Finch’s character in the beginning.
Although you gradually begin to see that something isn’t right with Finch in the film, the book describes how he has an obsession with death, always discussing the different ways to commit suicide, the reasons for choosing not to do it on that particular day, and the need for him to feel some kind of pain to keep himself awake.
The signs are all there in the book, whereas the film seems to want to make Finch’s own mental illness as a surprise as he focusses on getting Violet better. Why? Probably to make the story’s ending all the more powerful, but this is why the film lacks the level of emotion that the book has, for me. Without the narrative that the book relies on, the lack of insight into how Finch is really feeling means that the audience doesn’t get to see the constant struggles that are going on in his head, so we aren’t able to feel for him in the same way.
Finch’s potential diagnosis of bipolar disorder isn’t mentioned in the film, either, which could have really opened up some bigger discussions. Although the film does well to show is emotions going from feeling really high to instantly really low, it doesn’t show how he is constantly drowning in his own thoughts, meaning that the outcome of his situation doesn’t pack the same punch.
What the film does well, however, is that it better highlights that anybody can be struggling with a mental illness and that not everybody shows their struggles on the outside. It also shows that having a mental illness can relate to anything from being depressed to suffering from bulimia, highlighting that things aren’t always as straightforward as a label might suggest. It’s a really relevant topic, emphasising the need for young people (or people of all ages, for that matter) to talk to somebody and share the load if they aren’t coping with something going on in their life.
Whilst the adaptation does tone down some of the bigger moments in the book, it is still an enjoyable film with two great leads. Elle Fanning and Justice Smith are both brilliantly cast. Visually, Smith looks nothing like the Finch described in the book, but he brings Finch’s personality to life perfectly. Fanning, as well, gives an incredibly relatable performance, with her emotions feeling very genuine. The pair are both just very likeable actors and are the sole reason why I would happily watch this film again and again.
As for the supporting cast, Keegan-Michael Key would have also made a great school counsellor if his role allowed for more comedy. For the few laughs that his roles allows for, he gives a very funny performance, but his full potential wasn’t able to show through because of the serious nature of its subject. I also enjoyed Luke Wilson‘s role as Violet’s father, but we didn’t get to see enough of him, either.
Differences From The Book:
I’ve gone into some of these differences above, but I’m going to start off with some of the bigger character changes from the book before going into some of the less relevant alterations that are to be expected from an adpation.
- As briefly mentioned, the film doesn’t emphasise Finch’s obsession with death. In the book, he is constantly talking about different ways to die, making lists about the details and facts of the different methods, and talking about famous people who have died in that way. He also often gives a reason as to why he’s not going to die on that day, showing that he is constantly thinking about it. In the film, his own mental health issues aren’t that obvious in the beginning; we only know that he hides away from everybody for long periods of time without any explanation. And whilst we see him running often and sinking himself in the bathtub in the film, we don’t know that is the burning sensation in his chest that he loves about these things, as he constantly pushes himself to his limits to feel the pain. One of Finch’s more standout comments about suicide in the book is to do with quicksand, showing us that he is starting to feel like he’s going under. Again, the film tends to avoid anything on this level of detail and we don’t get to see much of this side to Finch.
- In the book, Finch also has various different personas, dressing differently and even putting on different accents. 80s Finch is a vegetarian and doesn’t smoke, Badass Finch has a leather jacket, Slacker Finch is scruffy, All-American Finch has his long fringe cut neatly, and then there’s Nerd Finch. These different personas represent his bipolar diagnosis in the book, but the film doesn’t include them.
- As for Violet, it is obvious that she enjoys writing in the film and that she doesn’t want to do it any more, but it doesn’t emphasise her passion as much as the book does. In the book, Violet wanted to go to NYU to do a writing program, but she no longer wants to after her sister’s death. Finch also has to spend more time persuading her to start writing again, and once he does, she then makes up her own Post-It Note board. Later, she also sets up a new online magazine called Germ, for which she enlists the help of Brenda and some other girls at school, and brainstorm ideas for with her mum.
- In the film, Ryan and Roamer are the same person, with only Roamer existing. In the book, Ryan is Violet’s ex-boyfriend whilst Roamer is going out with Amanda. Whilst we know that Finch and Roamer don’t get along in the film, it isn’t explained why, either. In the book, we are told that Finch and Roamer used to be friends, but when Finch told Roamer that he was thinking about the concept of suicide, Roamer began calling him a freak. Because of this, in the book, everybody calls Finch Theodore Freak and he is much more of an outcast, with Roamer picking fights with him much more often. In the film, he is called a freak a couple of times but it appears to be because he has a bit of a violent streak, not because of his mental stability.
- Finch has two sisters in the book, Kate and Decca. Only Kate is in the film. Decca, his young sister, isn’t in many scenes in the book, but there is a chapter where Decca cuts out all of the bad words and phrases in her books, and she and Finch throw them away to keep only the good parts. It’s quite a prominent scene in the book, again emphasising that it’s about what you leave behind.
- We also get to meet Finch’s dad and his new family in the book. Finch goes to his house at the weekends and wonders if his step-brother is fathered by his dad from an affair. Getting to see Finch’s dad means that we get to see the dark moods that he goes into, as well as the abuse that Finch suffers at his hands. His father’s moods are only mentioned in the film when Finch comments that he doesn’t remember his dad very well, whereas, in the book, it also mentioned that his dad has bipolar disorder. Finch’s counsellor then suggests that Finch may be bipolar, too, but there is no mention of bipolar disorder in the film at all. You do, however, see that Finch has very high and then very low moments, but his mental illness isn’t explored well at all.
And now onto some more of the generic changes, listed in chronological order:
- In the film, Violet is thinking about jumping off a bridge, the site where her sister’s car crashed. There is a sign that says “Drive Safely In Memory of Eleanor Marky”. In the book, Violet is at the top of the bell tower in school and there is no such sign.
- In the film, Finch is running passed Violet and tries to talk her down. In the book, Finch is thinking about jumping off the bell tower himself when he notices Violet on the other side. When people notice the two of them up there, Finch then pretends that she is saving him from jumping. This is then reported in the school newspaper and Violet is also asked to be interviewed by a local news reporter. Because of this, her parents find out about the incident and are more wary of Finch, whereas they don’t know much about him in the film.
- In the book, Finch’s counsellor sees him on the bell tower which is why he wants to see him. In the film, it’s just an ordinary counselling session.
- In the book, Finch talks more about being ‘Asleep’. He mentions in the film that he wants to stay awake and later explains it to Violet, but it’s not obvious that he is constantly battling with his own mind.
- In the film, Finch says that he was away from school because his Grandma died. In the book, Finch’s sister phoned into school to say that he was off with the flu.
- In the film, Finch’s mum is away on business. In the book, she is always at home but never mentally present, although she attempts to make an effort.
- In the film, Violet’s mum makes a birthday cake for Eleanor, saying that she’s made one every year so why stop? This isn’t in the book.
- In the book, Violet talks about her nightmares in which she feels like she is being strangled. This isn’t mentioned in the film.
- In the book, Violet has recently cut herself a wonky fringe but she doesn’t have one in the film. It is also said outright that the glasses she wears are her sister’s, but this isn’t said outright in the film. Instead, you can only notice in some photographs that it was Eleanor who wore glasses.
- In the book, Finch interrupts the class by shouting “I choose Violet Marky” to be his project partner. In the film, Finch asks her when they go for a walk after the party.
- In the film, Violet asks her parents to talk to her teacher to get her out of doing the project. In the book, all of the teachers are constantly giving her “extenuating circumstances” which she takes advantage of. When she asks Mr Black if she can get out of doing it, he tells her he’s going to do her a favour by making her do it. We don’t see this conversation in the film.
- In the book, Finch signs up to Facebook so that he can add Violet. In the film, he talks to her via Instagram.
- In the film, we see Finch stick up a Post-It Note saying “Because she smiled at me” but we don’t know more than that. In the book, it is obvious that this is a reason why Finch won’t be committing suicide today.
- In the book, Finch gives Violet a set of guidelines for their wanderings. They aren’t allowed to use their phones for maps, they have to alternate choosing a place to visit, and they have to leave something behind. Violet later adds no cars and not in the snow. We see them leaving items behind in the film, but the message of “It’s not what you take, it’s what you leave” is not as clear. Violet only has one rule, as well, which is no cars.
- In the book, Amanda tells Violet that she is having a small sleepover to get Violet to come over. Realising it is a party, she is sick and goes home. In the film, Violet’s parents persuade her to go to the party and she isn’t sick.
- In the book, Brenda kisses Roamer at the party. She doesn’t in the film.
- In the book, Finch runs to the site where Violet’s sister crashed her car and finds her license plate. He later makes a shrine there. This isn’t in the film. Instead, they use the crash site as the place where Violet wants to commit suicide.
- In the book, Finch goes home and gets all of the drugs out of his bathroom cabinet but then later flushes them away. This isn’t in the film and we, again, don’t know that he is thinking this way.
- In the book, Brenda and Finch have a lot more personal discussions and she also takes him clothes shopping. She also tells Violet that if she breaks his heart, she will beat her up. We don’t see much of Brenda and Finch together in the film.
- In the book, Finch walks Violet to school but then leaves in the other direction. He later says that it was because he had a headache, but we know that he is struggling to stay awake. This isn’t in the film but, although we don’t know about his struggles yet, he does start skipping school earlier than in the book.
- In the book, Violet goes on a date with Ryan and he says that they should get back together. This isn’t in the film and their past relationship isn’t mentioned, although it is hinted at.
- In the film, Violet and Finch have a staring contest. They do not in the book.
- In the book, the second wander they go to is a Bookmobile Park. They don’t visit this place in the film.
- In the book, they then go to the “Before I die, I want to…” wall. They both write many things, including “have a perfect day” and ending with Finch writing “kiss Violet Marky.” In the film, they walk to this wall at night time and it is only their second wander. They then only write one thing each, neither of them being the comments above.
- There are many more wanders in the book, too, although not all of them are detailed at length.
- In the film, they visit the tree with hanging shoes as one of the wanders, but Violet doesn’t visit this location until after Finch’s suicide in the book.
- In the book, Finch tells Violet that he will tell her about his scar if she tells him about the accident. In the film, Violet randomly starts telling Finch without being asked to.
- In the book, Finch goes to see his counsellor and tells him about Violet. Embry tells him to “be careful”. Finch hates this phrase and it makes him worry about what he is going to do to Violet. This isn’t in the film and we don’t know about his worries.
- In the book, Finch meets Violet outside all of her classes at school and they nearly kiss, but they are caught by a teacher and get detention together. This isn’t in the film.
- In the book, Violet gives her sister’s glasses back. In the film, she doesn’t.
- In the book, Finch paints his whole room blue. In the film, he only paints a small section of it.
- When Violet and Finch first kiss in the book, he notices that she is a virgin and doesn’t want to push her further. Virginity isn’t mentioned in the film.
- In the book, Finch leaves Violet a present at her house. It’s a pair of goggles. He doesn’t in the film.
- It snows in the book and they make a snowman. This isn’t in the film.
- In the book, Finch takes Violet out for Valentine’s dinner. In the film, they are seen at a cafe with Charlie and Brenda.
- In the book, Violet lets out her anger at the Blue Hole by throwing rocks at a wall, and then asks Finch what’s going on between them. Finch tells her that he is broken and she deserves better. He then tells her that he loves her. None of this is in the film and there is no mention of love. Instead, Violet asks Finch where he goes to when he disappears. He says that he has to remind himself that he’s in control. We still don’t really know what’s going on with him in the film at this point.
- In the book, Violet has a shower at Finch’s house and this is when they first have sex. In the film, they visit some train tracks.
- In the book, Finch and Violet often go to Purina Tower together. Here, Finch tells Violet about a televised April Fool’s joke in which an astronomer discussed a Jupiter-Pluto alignment which has a significant meaning to their relationship. This location isn’t in the film and the alignment isn’t mentioned.
- In the book, they fall asleep together at the tower. In the film, they fall asleep together after having sex.
- In the book, Violet’s parents don’t want her to have anything more to do with Finch because they know he is suicidal due to the bell tower incident. In the film, they aren’t that against him because they don’t know about his mental state, only knowing that Finch stopped Violet from jumping off the bridge.
- In the book, Finch’s dad is waiting for him at his house after talking to Violet’s parents. He goes to hit Finch but Finch stops him and says “never again.” Finch’s dad isn’t in the film, and his mum isn’t at home either, so no one cares about what he’s been up to.
- In the book, Violet tells Finch to give her parents time to allow him back into her house. Finch says, “That’s the only thing I don’t have”, hinting at things to come. This isn’t in the film and we do not know what’s going on in Finch’s head.
- In the book, Violet goes to NYU for spring break with her parents. This isn’t in the film.
- In the book, Finch runs to an old ladies house and asks if he can get some flowers from her nursery to give to his girlfriend. In the film, he has a car full of flowers but we don’t know why or how he got them.
- In the book, it’s obvious that something is really wrong with Finch at this point. Embry thinks that he has bipolar and leaves a voicemail on his home answering machine, but Finch deletes this. No one is really worrying about Finch as much in the film and no such diagnosis is made.
- In the book, there is a fire drill and Finch takes Violet to a river near the school. He goes for a swim in the water when Ryan and Roamer start a fight with him. Finch holds Roamer’s head under the water. They then have another fight, but Finch just stands and takes the hits, and a third fight when Finch chokes Roamer. This is what gets him expelled. In the film, Finch and Roamer only have the one fight at school.
- In the book, Finch takes some pills and then runs to the hospital to get them pumped out of his system. This isn’t in the film.
- In the book, Violet goes to Finch’s house but he’s hiding in his room, ashamed, and doesn’t come out. In the film, he has gone to a support group.
- In the book, the group is called Life is Life and they have to discuss what life means to them. In the film, it is called Fresh Approach.
- In the book, Finch gives his half-brother’s name at the support group. We don’t know about his dad’s new family in the film, so he gives his real name. Amanda also uses a false name in the book but not in the film.
- In the book, Violet goes to Finch’s house after not seeing him for days. He has made a fort in which they write down words on Post-It Notes, throwing the negative ones away. This isn’t in the film.
- In the book, Amanda tells Violet about the support group before Finch commits suicide. In the film, she tells Violet about it afterwards.
- In the film, Violet tells Amanda that she would miss her if she went but, in the book, Violet has realised that she doesn’t really like Amanda any more and is hanging out with Brenda more.
- In the book, Violet goes to Finch’s house for his birthday. They eat Chinese food in his walk-in closet and Violet has bought him a copy of The Waves. When Finch makes a comment about a black hole being the coolest way to die, Violet starts crying and tells Finch he needs help. This isn’t in the film and Violet isn’t able to talk to him properly about what’s going on.
- In the book, a whole month passes without Violet seeing Finch so she goes on another date with Ryan. This isn’t in the film.
- In the book, Kate then comes to visit Violet as she is worried about Finch. He has sent Kate a ‘goodbye’ email, Charlie and Brenda both a text, and later Violet a text saying that he isn’t lost, he has been found. He doesn’t send any messages in the film.
- In the book, Violet goes to Finch’s bedroom and realises where he is after re-arranging his Post-It Notes. In the film, Violet’s dad asks her where she thinks he would be.
- In the film, this is this first time that Violet drives a car. In the book, she has driven a few times already.
- In the book, Violet swims in the water looking for Finch. She then phones 911 and is asked to identify the body when they find him, but she refuses. She then tells Finch’s mum. In the film, she doesn’t go in the lake looking for him, she isn’t asked to identify the body, and she doesn’t have to tell Finch’s family.
- In the book, they make a shrine for Finch at school. They don’t in the film.
- In the book, Violet goes to see Emry. He’s adamant that he’s not responsible but admits that he could have done more. He then tells Violet that surviving this is the second hardest thing she will have to do, as the first is already over with, and he gives her some self-help leaflets. He doesn’t make any such comments in the film or try to help her.
- In the book, the school are made to do a self-defence class as their weak attempt to address Finch’s suicide. This isn’t in the film.
- In the book, Finch has prepared five more places for Violet to wander to. It is from these places that he sent her the five texts from during his month-long disappearance. The last of these is the baptist church. Finch also leaves her a letter. In the film, Finch hasn’t prepared anything but he had the church circled on a map at the beginning.
- In the book, Violet tells her parents that they need to remember that Eleanor existed and to talk about her more. They don’t have this discussion in the film.
- In the book, Violet, Brenda, Charlie, Amanda and Ryan go to Purina Tower. In the film, Violet takes Brenda and Charlie to one of hers and Finch’s wander sites.
- The film ends with Violet giving her presentation to the class, highlighting the message of finding the bright places in the darkest of times. This doesn’t happen in the book, which instead focusses on the message of it being about what you leave behind.
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For the most part, this is a great adaptation of the book, brilliantly bringing to life the very likeable characters of Finch and Violet and successfully highlighting the book’s many important messages.
However, it just doesn’t have the emotional depth of the book, for me, failing to explore some of the darker issues that Finch faces and, therefore, not having the same emotional impact at the end.