“The Garden of Eden” was published in 1986 posthumously. It is the second novel of Hemingway’s to be published after his death in 1961. The book received some criticism for the substantial editing involved in putting it together. Hemingway began writing The Garden of Eden in 1946 and continued to work on the piece over the next fifteen years and up until his death. The final novel was edited down to 30 chapters and 70,000 words from its original 48 chapters and 200,000 words, quite possibly loosing Hemingway concept for the story.
“The Garden of Eden” is the story of the lives of David Bourne, an American writer, and his wife, Catherine. The story begins on their honeymoon where David seems to be willing to do anything to keep his new bride happy and occupied, including mimicking her dress and behavior. He quickly seems to loose his own identity. Catherine is easily bored and meets a young woman Marita, whom intrigues her and with whom they both fall in love, but only one can ultimately have her. David at Catherine’s encouragement starts an affair with Marita, leaving his relationship with his wife to deteriorate an action that will change all three of their lives forever.
Director John Irvin’s interpretation of the novel is a beautiful one, visually the film is stunning. Production designer Tim Hutchinson (Under Suspicion) and Art Director Jonathan McKinstry (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) have taken care with the details and the payoff is big. The cinematography is equally breathtaking; Ashley Rowe (Calendar Girls, Alfie) captures the beauty of the diverse locations from sweeping shots of Africa to the beautiful coast of Murcia and Altea.
Not to be outdone by the art direction and production design are the costumes that are simply stunning. Oscar winner Alexandra Byrne (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Phantom of the Opera) has once again outdone herself, her attention to every detail, from the matching attire of the Bourne’s to the sultry looks of Marita are gorgeous.
Jack Huston (Outlander) as David Bourne the newlywed writer who is desperately in love with and devoted to his wife, seemingly willing to let go of his own identity to instead match hers is believable though at times feels bit put on partly due to the ridiculous nature of his character. Mena Suvari (American Beauty, American Pie) is Catherine his manipulative, eccentric and beautiful wife, Suvari is believable but a tad dramatic again the character feels contrived. Caterina Murino (Volver) as Marita feels possible the most real her character is a bit more natural although the situation and the love triangle still are over the top.
The three main characters are all played by fine actors and you get the feeling that it is not their performances but the material, the script that is lacking. The love triangle story is one that is over the top, and it certainly seems that it was Hemingway’s intention to make it feel a bit bizarre, however when played out on screen it seems contrived and put on. The performances by the actors end up feeling fake. The audience will have trouble buying into these characters and their bizarre behavior and quite possibly miss the wonderful references that are found within the story. Ultimately the characters become too distracting for the story.
Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden is a fill filled with dazzling visuals the sweeping landscaped and the beautiful wardrobe-ing that make this film a beautiful one to watch.