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From “Flowery Expression” to Floral Motif: Adapting Discordant Narration in Sarah Polley’s Away from Her

Daniel Aureliano NEWMAN


In her film Away from Her, Sarah Polley subtly transforms the discordant (ideologically-unreliable)
narration of its source text, Alice Munro’s “The Bear Came over the Mountain.” Given the challenges discordant narration poses for film adaptation, this essay examines how Polley repurposes several elements present in Munro’s story, few of which participate in its narration, and consolidates them into a system of cues that undermine the audience’s sympathy with the protagonist, thus performing a role equivalent to though technically and rhetorically different from Munro’s use of discordance; the most important of these cues constitute the film’s floral motif. Overall, Polley’s adaptation of discordant narration translates aspects of fictive discourse (sujet) into cinematic content (fabula), a shift that is hypothesized to be common in film adaptations of fiction featuring discordant narrators. More generally, Polley’s adaptive manoeuvres illustrate how adaptations can foreground narratological problems and focus theoretical attention on the role of specific narrative elements within and across medial environments. How her film adapts the discordance of Munro’s story, mobilizing the ethical and political functions of discordance across contexts, media and discursive forms, endorses the continued use of narratology in the study of adaptation and, furthermore, suggest that Adaptation Studies could help clarify and further our understanding of core concepts in narratology.

Keywords: discordant narration, film adaptation, cinematic unreliability, feminist narratology, Alice Munro, Sarah Polley

DOI: 10.24193/ekphrasis.22.4