Bleak novel “Atomised” toned down for film version
By Mike Collett-White
BERLIN (Reuters) – A new film based on Michel Houellebecq’s
controversial novel “Atomised,” featuring racism, masturbation,
mental illness and suicide, will be considered a bleak picture
by most who watch it.
But as the makers of “The Elementary Particles” freely
admit, it is far less pessimistic than the best seller, which
shocked and alienated many readers when it was published in
“It became clear to us that the novel didn’t find a
resolution; individuals were left totally alone,” German
director Oskar Roehler told reporters after his film had its
premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday.
“The conclusion the author draws we didn’t feel we could
have in the film. Cloning as the only form of reproduction –
what would this mean?” he added through an interpreter.
He was referring to the final chapter of “Les Particules
Elementaires,” which was published as “Atomised” in Britain and
“The Elementary Particles” in the United States.
It takes the narrative to a future where genetic scientists
master the techniques of cloning and create a new species to
replace humans, leaving mankind to die out gradually.
Co-producer Bernd Eichinger concurred with Roehler’s
decision to freely adapt the novel.
“The film is a bit more conciliatory than the book.”
The story in both media follows the lives of two
half-brothers who struggle to fit in. Bruno is a mentally
unstable sex addict and Michael is a scientist whose findings
eventually lead to Houellebecq’s bleak vision of the future.
Several scenes involving Bruno, played by German actor
Moritz Bleibtreu, drew gasps and laughs in equal measure at a
packed press screening, although some of the most graphic
passages from the novel had to be cut out.
The fate of Michael, played by Christian Ulmen, also
differs in the two versions.
It took co-producer Oliver Berben four to five years to
negotiate with Houellebecq, who finally gave his consent. What
the reclusive author thinks about the film is anyone’s guess.
“He can’t react because he hasn’t seen the film yet,” said
Roehler. “His publisher has been unable to reach him, although
that’s normal, there is no cause for alarm.”
Houellebecq, whose real name is Michel Thomas, has never
been far from controversy.
When “Atomised” was released in English it polarised
critics, with the New York Times calling it “a deeply repugnant
read” but Britain’s Observer newspaper praising it as a bold
statement about society today.
The author was also sued after being accused of inciting
racial hatred by calling Islam “the stupidest religion” in a
2001 magazine interview. A French court acquitted him in 2002.
“The Elementary Particles” was one of two main competition
films to feature on Saturday at the annual Berlin festival.
The other, “The Science of Sleep,” is directed by France’s
Michel Gondry and stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte
Gainsbourg. The main character, played by Bernal, withdraws
into his dreams and neglects the real world.