Cormac McCarthy's debut screenplay The Counsellor is set to hit UK screens in November 2013. A stellar cast of Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem are involved in a typically McCarthyite world of drugs, violence and double-crossing. This exciting news is just the latest example of the author's successful involvement with the silver screen.
By all accounts Cormac McCarthy is one adaptable author. No Country For Old Men, All the Pretty Horses, even the 'unfilmable' The Road made it to our screens to great commercial and critical success.
And McCarthy's other works are constantly rumoured to be in some stage-of-production. Andrew Dominik-director of Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James - is preparing to adapt Cities of the Plain, and James Franco has already prepared Child of God. Even Tommy Lee Jones had a crack at McCarthy's stage play The Sunset Limited.
But there is one that is different to all of these. A black sheep amongst the McCarthy canon. Elusive, vainglorious, as perplexing to envisage as a film let alone execute, there is one that promises to be the one that got away. There is one which, like all those grand yet futile cross-medium projects, will ultimately come to nought; shall always remain a book.
I speak of Blood Meridian, the thorny one amidst the Hollywood-McCarthy rose. Or to give it its full, suitably convoluted, name; Blood Meridian; or The Evening Redness in the West. So what's so hard with Blood Meridian?
Blood Meridian is an ultra-violent Western set during the mid-1800s. It follows "the Kid", the murderous though enigmatic 'protagonist' of the story, who glides from one gang of degenerate scalp-hunters to the next. They progress from slaying natives to turning their violence on settler communities too. Blood Meridian possesses a mellifluous through-line of anarchic genocide, depicting the brutality of America's western expansion in a typically McCarthyite anti-western style. 'The Kid's' feelings surrounding the murders he commits, or the extent of his maturation in this hellish livelihood, are left essentially unexamined by McCarthy.
Why is it Unfilmable?
An unlikeable unknowable protagonist, uncomfortably young, travels through the unforgiving southlands in search of trading scalps for cash. This is no hero's journey; this is the complex layered world of a McCarthy novel. One of the central tenets of movie theory is that we have a protagonist who wants something, who overcomes obstacles to get them-who learns something about himself and the world along the way. But the real story in Blood Meridian is too quintessentially ephemeral and elegiac for this kind of Hollywood structure to hold the story together.
Then there is the singular, spooky character of 'The Judge'-colossal in size, shaven in body; breathtakingly bellicose in behaviour. He is an antagonist of a kind, but it feels like no actor could do him justice on screen.
And, then, perhaps most importantly, is the McCarthy prose-somehow different in Blood Meridian than the economic flow we've come to enjoy in his other novels. There is tenacity and ferocity of McCarthy almost unpunctuated flow that simply sets Blood Meridian apart. Here's a typical example of the intricate web of sentences Blood Meridian contains;
The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.
Who has been linked?
Still, anything with 'based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy' is likely to do well at the Box Office. Given the recent spate of other 'unfilmable' books (Cloud Atlas, The Great Gatsby, Life of Pi) the allure has been too great for some not to throw their hat in the Blood Meridian ring......only to have it spat back out; rejected; mocked.
After all, these optimists decry, wasn't McCarthy once an unfilmable author-all that lyrical complexity and novelistic stream-of-consciousness, who would have predicted the extent of his screen adaptations? And it's true, McCarthy's success at the Box Office goes directly against the milieu of the kind of books which tend to become films.
James Franco's plans to give us two ambitious adaptations; the first William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and McCarthy's Blood Meridian have seemingly, simultaneously foundered. Todd Field and Ridley Scott were similarly linked to the film but seem to have given up the chase-though Scott has taken up The Counsellor instead.
Maybe, Just Maybe?
Perhaps the film will be made after all. Perhaps the allure will be too great a temptation for some. Perhaps Blood Meridian know will prove to be Titus Andronicus or a Coriolanus, tackled a long time after all the author's other works have been duly attempted
And it may well prove a spectacular adaptation. I always envisage it's film equivalent as a kind of Lost in La Mancha-meets- Mad Max; something akin to an unknowable quest amongst the outback of social history.
Yet, though some are raring for the new medium, realistic movie chefs see Blood Meridian as well done left alone.
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