The crime genre can reveal the darkest side of society. With reference to The Pledge, the text and its filmic version, examine what issues are foregrounded in Dürrenmatt's novel and how they are carried over to the film.
The genre of crime plays a popular role in European literature; usually the genre expresses issues in society that are normally kept at bay, as it is one of the few genres that covers topics of fear in everyday life and real life horrors that people have concerns about. Within a typical crime fiction there is the crime, usually a murder and then the hunt by the detective to capture the person that committed the crime. This essay will begin with discussing the crime genre, the effect of this style of writing and how it has varied slightly over the years. Then focusing on Durrenmatt's The Pledge, how it is a criticism of the crime genre, the issues that are included in the story and how they vary to the film version written by Sean Penn.
Crime fiction dates back years, with the likes of Edgar Allan, who is a reknowened crime fiction write, Poe works *******being seen by many as where the detective story began. (Scaggs, John, 2005: 7)The crime genre usually represents the fight between good and evil being that the good is the detective and the bad is the murderer. This is where the fine line between good and bad blurs is unclear when it comes to The Pledge, as some of the actions taken by the detective are not always good and moral.
The Golden Age for crime fiction when it was .... dated from **** with the likes of Agatha Christie, when the traditional crime story would give the reader closure with a satisfactory ending in which the perpetrator would generally be brought to justice. However, more modern crime fiction along with The Pledge has become more sadistic and savage. Portraying a more realistic story of crime in which there is not always justice in the end and the crime not always solved.
The crime genre in general deals with issues that people are concerned in real life. It seems peculiar that there is a desire that people have to read about the crimes that occur though at the same time people may enjoy being frightened but within a safe place. There is also the pleasure for the readers to try to solve the crime themselves. The stories can reflect issues in society such and murder, violence and police brutality and be used as a means to show changes and express problems with what is occurring in everyday life.
Friedrich Dürrenmatt was born in 1921, in a small town in Switzerland called Konolfingen, and passed away in 1990. Initially a play writer he turned to fiction writing later on in life with a large amount of his fictions related to his home country that he loved. Although at the same time, he disliked the narrow-minded mentality of the Swiss people and the political organisation, as can be seen in The Pledge this opinion is reflected. (Durrenmatt's Drama, Northcott, K DATE)
The Pledge: Requiem for the detective novel was written in 1958 and was used to express his criticism of the crime genre. Dürrenmatt initially wrote the scenario for a film version of The Pledge, called 'It happened in broad daylight', because of the national concern for the growing number of sexual crimes. This was a way of alerting parents to these dangers in their society. (Understanding Durrenmatt...REF pg 41**)He was so unhappy with the unrealistic and neat ending that he changed it to a book form and adapted the ending to something that better reflected reality. Instead, the detective never catches the killer. (Ziolfowski T, Dürrenmatt's Fiction DATE)
From the style of The Pledge it shows that Dürrenmatt may have believed that certain aspects of crime fiction did not represent a realistic view on the dark side of society and put a lot more pressure on the police force when the crime solving is not that easy. In that, it always showed the crime being solved by the detective and a successful conclusion when it does not always happen that easily and no matter how intelligent the detective may be things can occur that get in the way.
The story demonstrates the ethical dilemmas that face the detective Matthäi when he is faced with the murder of a young girl, Gritli Moser, just when he is about to move to Jordan because of a promotion. He makes a pledge to the girl's mother that he will find out who was the killer. Initially the peddler who found the young girl becomes a suspect as he has a previous record involving a minor and the police just accept that it was him. The peddler is questioned all night and eventually confesses and then hangs himself, still Matthäi does not believe that the peddler is the murderer. He becomes determined to find the real killer, and it becomes the start of an obsession for him. Instead of moving to Jordan for his promotion, he stays and sets himself up in a garage, a prostitute and her daughter move in with him and he uses the daughter as bait to try to snare the murderer.
The story begins written in the first person narrative as the character of an unknown detective fiction writer who could be taken as being Dürrenmatt himself. It then changes to the primary narrator that is called Dr. H, a retired police officer who goes on to explain to this detective why the detective literature genre is flawed. For this, he uses the example of Matthäi the detective of a stereotypical crime story that has a different ending in which the murderer is never captured and the detective is not proved right. This leaves the reader with more a feeling of dissatisfaction as it is not a happy conclusion.
A film adaptation of the book was released in 2001 directed by Sean Penn starring Jack Nicholson. Sean Penn's version of the story is quite notably different in comparison to the version written by Drrenmatt however, Penn still includes the same moral issues that are brought about in the book. The setting is instead America and the detective, Matthi, is now an American called Jerry which turns the film into a more relatable story for the viewers.
According to the analysis of Tzvetan Todorov 'the crime story contains two stories: the first story is the story of crime, and the second is the story of its investigation.' (Scaggs, John, 2005: 2) In the book version of The Pledge, there is also a third story as Dr. H. tells the unknown crime fiction writer the story of the crime, which takes the reader even further away from the story making it more impersonal. These embedded narratives then give more layers to a story and also The Pledge becomes a more self-reflective piece as it is a crime fiction about crime fiction. The reader can see the flaws within the genre. Whereas in the Penn's film version a large difference is that this is taken away and the narrator becomes impersonal instead of being a character that is involved within the story. Then the viewer does not necessarily realise that the story is a criticism of the genre.
The ending in the film is quite dissimilar in that there is never a confession made from the mother of the murderer on her death. There is no explanation of the killer's motives; it just shows that there had been a car crash and the driver dies, which the viewer presumes, was the killer. Jerry is unable to prove to himself and his ex-work colleagues in the police force that suspicions were correct. With this lack of explanation, this leaves the viewer relating more to the detective in the sense of dissatisfaction. There is no closure as there is no definite proof that the killer was in the crash and there is no explanation to the killer's motives whereas in the book the woman explains that the killer heard "messages from god". Therefore, the viewer is likely to have more sympathy for Jerry and less understanding towards the killer.
The crime genre could be seen as a way of portraying issues within culture and society that are a reality for some. Along with many other crime fictions, main issues foregrounded in both Dürrenmatt's novel and the film version are murder and violence. As previously mentioned the original intention for The Pledge was to make people aware of the growing number of sexual crimes. Another issue shown in the novel is the lack of trust that the public have in the public. They do not believe that the initial suspect will be dealt with properly by the police, and because of the pressure put on them by the locals they have to respond so quickly. The police willingly charge the peddler with the murder even though they clearly questioned him for an illegal amount of time. He felt that he had no other option than to confess for a crime he did not commit.
The detective displays very obsessive behaviour, this starts of as being about a promise he made but then develops throughout the story. This obsessive behaviour that can be hidden so easily from others, he can appear to be relatively normal. It is quite disturbing to the reader to see that the detective is willing to put the life of the girl at risk to capture the killer. It is another way in which Drrenmatt demonstrates how in real life crimes are not solved as easily as they are in crime fiction. Random elements of chance occur throughout the story not only at the end when he does not succeed in capturing the killer but also at the beginning when he is just about to move to Jordan that is when the case occurs.
The story calls attention to dangers and shows how easy it can be for a child to be a victim of a crime. With not only the murder but when the child is used as bait as well, the mother has no idea that he is putting her daughters' life at risk and trusts the detective. The story also shows how easily an innocent person, like the peddler in The Pledge, can be accused of a crime, and then a life is lost unnecessarily. The society misunderstands the peddler and immediately presumes that as he has a previous record and is from outside the city he is guilty. HOW PEDDLER IS DESCRIBED>
"Crime films reflect our ideas about fundamental, social, economic, and political issues while, at the same time, they shape the ways we think about these issues" (Rafter, N. Shots in the mirror: 3) As with crime fiction, the traditional crime film would criticise aspects of society, it enables the reader to identify themselves with the heroes that solve the crimes. It gives the reader a feeling of satisfaction as they think critically about the crime and support the restoration of what is morally correct. This style of crime film was particularly popular before the 1970s but since then, as done in The Pledge, writers have chosen for more alternative endings. Where the crime fighter does not always win and happy conclusions are rejected. (Rafter, N. Shots in the Mirror:3)
The film version plays the same role in highlighting issues, which are written about in the book, the way it is shown in the film adaptation has a few differences but the main storyline is still the same. In the book, the girl is murdered, the killer slashes her neck but in the film, she is also raped turning it into a sexual crime. This makes the story even more shocking to the viewer. There was quite a large difference between the initial suspects within the film and the book. In the book it is the 'peddler' that is the suspect as he finds the girl and reports it to the police and although he was previously convicted for an offence with a minor he seems more likely to be innocent than the character in the film.
The police procedures carried out in both the film and the book seem unjust towards the initial suspects. When they question the peddler in the book, they grind him down until he has no choice but to admit to a crime he has not done. Whereas in the film the initial suspect is mentally handicapped and from another country so therefore seen as an outsider, so the police immediately presume he has committed the murder. The police officer that questions the Indian persuades him to confess to the crime. As is typical in the crime genre, the police are portrayed as just immediately choosing the first suspect however, the clever detective thinks otherwise. It is easier for the viewer to believe that the Indian is the suspect as he has this mental illness and because he flees from the scene of the crime unlike the peddler who goes straight to the police. This is probably to provide more suspense for the viewer as they do not know whether what Jerry believes is just in his head.
The relationship between Jerry and the woman, Lori, is emphasized more in the film and develops into a romantic relationship. This may be to appeal more to the audience, they can relate more to Jerry as a character and there is more a sense of loss when he not only loses his mind at the end of the film but the love of Lori and her daughter. There is more of a fight between love and obsession whereas in the book the detective is seen as a more lonely character that develops few bonds with others. However, Dürrenmatt shows his popularity when he takes over the petrol station so everybody chooses to go there. In the film, Jerry becomes a less popular figure when he takes over the petrol station and his obsession is made clearer earlier on.
We have to ask if Dürrenmatt's twist on the crime genre is successful in capturing the reader's attention and giving them a satisfactory read. From observing both the film and reading the texts, it would seem that the film version has an ending of more discontentment. There is no explanation for the murders of the girl, the detective never does find out the truth, and the woman and her daughter with whom he had developed a close bond leave him. The film versions of a story has more effect on a reader as it involves more of the readers senses and makes the story more realistic. Dürrenmatt and Penn both create something with an ending that does not include the cliché aspects of the crime genre style and in doing so it makes it less popular for some but for others it is a welcomed change from the stereotypical ending.
In both the novel and the film, it examines the risks of doing good and the extremes that some people will go to which in turn end up being immoral too. It brings awareness to issues in real life of sexual crimes, murder and dangers for children. Numerous issues of deceit are also highlighted especially the behaviour of the detective towards the mother and the daughter that is used as bait. Also the pressure on the police to capture the killer may be a regular issue for the police partly due to the crime genre raising people's expectations. There is a fight between what is morally right and wrong and in it seems that justice is not served because unexpected chance gets in the way. Though the killer could be seen to get what he deserves as he dies in a car crash.
The crime genre literature is effective in expressing the publics concerns but in a way gives them false hope in that it is that easy for a detective to solve a crime when really, as Dürrenmatt successfully shows in The Pledge, intelligence is not the only factor in finding a murderer and it relies a lot on chance as well. The same message is shown effectively in the film version and shows a more realistic view of the lack of control we have over our lives.
As the majority of issues were carried over from the book that was written in 1958 to the film version 43 years later it shows that the concerns for Dürrenmatt are still an issue in a more modern society. However, certain aspects have changed with a lot of them being more intense situations such as the treatment of outsiders. This issue has been exaggerated for the film version, which could have been because people in more recent years are less pre-judging towards people that are perceived as different.