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Much like the opinions embedded in the fandom of entertainment, the industry itself is an exercise in contradiction - often enjoyably so. For instance, it was just earlier today when there was talk of Jennifer Lawrence possibly taking a brief hiatus from acting, and it only took a couple of hours for news to break that another one of her future projects is moving forward. She’s set to star in an updated remake of John Steinbeck’s classic East of Eden, reteaming her with Hunger Games director Gary Ross, who has officially also taken on scriptwriting duties for the film. Or films.
THR doesn’t make it clear whether or not Ross is still planning his adaptation as two full features, as was originally reported. but this is one of the only instances where splitting a single novel into two films is entirely sensible. Ross first came on board in September when Universal and Imagine got the rights from the Steinbeck estate, and it’s no surprise that he eventually chose to write it, given he’d done the same for all three of his previous directorial efforts. It’s still a daunting task, whichever way he goes about it.
Widely considered Steinbeck’s greatest achievement, East of Eden is as much about pre-WWI Salinas Valley in California as it is about the families living therein. A loose retelling of Cain and Abel’s biblical story, it begins with the bullied and troubled life of Adam Trask, who later unwittingly married and had children with a ruthless whore named Cathy, who soon leaves them all behind. Those twins, Caleb and Aron, grow up oblivious of their mother’s identity, until it one day becomes a major part of their lives.
The previous adaptation was the 1955 version from Elia Kazan, starring James Dean in his first major role, but that film only took on the second portion of the book involving Caleb and Aron. Can Ross, whose previous films also include Seabiscuit and Pleasantville, do something that even the great Elia Kazan couldn’t do? Not that I’m sensationalizing it or anything.
It’s a heavy narrative, full of rich themes and characters, and it’ll probably take Ross a while to perfect his approach. Even then we’re not sure if Lawrence will be involved with the next X-Men film, or her eighth film with David O. Russell or something - and that’s assuming she even sticks with this and doesn’t opt out at some point. Either way, this is more interesting than the usual adaptation or remake, so let’s hope Ross knows the perfect way to bring it to the screen.
And because it’d be a crime to just mention James Dean in this movie without seeing him, here’s one particularly memorable scene from the original adaptation.