A Comparison of the Film The Gift and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

A Comparison of the Film The Gift and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying


The literary novel As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner is a rather interesting classic about the perspectives of death that members of a family have as they go on a long journey to bury their dead mother Annie. Similarly the film called The Gift which is directed by Sam Raimi is a peculiar and eerie film that features the local townspeople’s reaction to the death of a woman named Jessica King as they try and solve her murder case. Many themes overlap between the two works of literature such as the physic vision that Anne Wilson has in seeing the future and the line of physic thought that Darl Bundren has in knowing the thoughts of his siblings. The final similarity is the power of the dead to metaphorically rise from the dead. In both the film and the novel, the images of the dead bodies of both Annie Bundren and Jessica King appear and seem to talk to the people who know them best.

The film “The Gift” stars Keanu Reevesand Katie Holmes but the real focus and main character in the film is Cate Blanchett who plays the role of Anne Wilson, a woman who has the ability to read into the future and the past events through a deck of cards and her mind. It is precisely this telepathic vision that Anne has that causes her to be the center of a small little town in Georgia as controversy swirls around her. Townspeople who look for advice come to her to try and read their futures to get some insight into the unknown. While Anne’s “gift” is debatable as to its true authenticity of being fortunetelling or nothing more than piecing together bits of evidence from the past, this much we learn as certain: Anne is treated as an outcast and is perceived as performing witchcraft in her town. In the book, As I Lay Dyingby Faulkner, the question of the morality of Darl’s line of sight isn’t really focused on as much as his ability to understand what his siblings are thinking without them actually saying anything to him. Darl’s uncanny knack for knowing the thoughts of his sister and brother are precisely what gets him into trouble. Darl is able to understand that his sister Dewey Dell is trying to get an abortion and he also knows that his brother Jewel is really his half brother because of his mother’s affair.

In the film, the death of Jessica King engulfs the entire town as the mystery begins to find her killer. This search for the killer takes its toll on the townspeople, particularly Annie who has nightmares and sees visions of King’s body during the day. Through Annie’s vision, she is able to locate King’s body which is found in a lake and discover the identity of the killer by going back to the murder scene. This one dead body further fuels controversy as to its discovery and Annie’s gift. During the trial, Anne is put on the stand and ridiculed by the defense lawyer and called a “witch” by the suspected killer, Donnie Barksdale. Yet the image of Jessica King’s body lingers with Anne so much so that she continues to have nightmares about finding the right killer and getting justice for King. This search brings her to King’s fiancé who we find out in the end has killed his future wife because she cheated on him. The book by Faulkner doesn’t have quite the same plot details as the film, yet the point is made even still. It is the body of Addie Bundren which is the focal point of the novel and her dying wish to be brought into the town where he parents are buried. In the book, Addie speaks to the reader from the grave which is creepy and eerie at best. From the grave, Addie informs the reader of her hatred for her children and husband and her affair with a minister. Finally, the reader is told of the hoax and revenge that Addie is trying to extract on her family for taking her life away as she became a mother.

Finally, the most intriguing concept that both the film and the book both bring out is the power of the dead to influence society. One of the most controversial scenes in the film “The Gift” that is certainly up for debate among literary and film critics is whether Annie herself defended herself from Jessica King’s fiancé, Ben. Annie was taken to the lake by Ben and as she finally realized that Ben was the real killer, Ben is ready to strike Annie and kill her. As the lightening strikes in the background, we see what appears to be Annie’s friend Buddy striking Ben and knocking him down. Then Buddy proceeds to drag Ben’s body into the trunk of the car. Later on in the film, we learn that hours earlier, Buddy had committed suicide in a mental hospital. So the scene begs the question: Did Annie, a fragile and scared woman, really have the strength and courage to defend herself from the killer? The scene recognizes the power of the dead to act beyond the grave as we are led to believe that in some way, Buddy’s spirit helped to save Annie’s life.

A comparison from this theme can also be made to Faulkner’s book as the power of Addie’s spirit comes into question in two scenes where Jewel saves her body from both fire and water. During the flood, Jewel conjures up his strength to rescue Addie’s coffin and when Darl ignites a fire inside a barn to burn his mother’s coffin, Jewel bravely dashes into the barn to rescue the body. These two acts of courage also ask the question about the impact that Addie’s spirit had on recovering her body and continuing the journal to her burial. Jewel was Addie’s favorite son as he was born out of the affair that she had during her marriage. It is up to the reader’s interpretation how the spirit of Addie from the dead had on her family and her favorite son, Jewel. These themes in both the film “The Gift” and the book As I Lay Dying all show us the power of the dead to influence society.