[SPOILERS follow, although if you’ve yet to see My Sister’s Keeper, you’re not missing anything.]
When I first read My Sister’s Keeper, I was devastated. The tale, told from multiple points of view, centers on a teenager with leukemia, Kate, and her younger sister, Anna, who was conceived solely to be a possible donor match for her dying big sister. But one summer, following many painful procedures, Anna decides she doesn’t want to be part of her sister’s medical treatments anymore and sues her parents for medical emancipation. The whole family struggles with the fact that if Anna stops her treatments, Kate will die.
The book grapples with big questions about medical ethics and family responsibilities. It’s a gripping, emotional read, especially in the final pages where, after it comes out that Anna is only stopping the treatments at Kate’s wishes, a judge emancipates Anna from her parents, allowing the choice to be hers. Shortly after that, readers learn that Anna died in a freak car accident, and her kidney was donated to Kate after all – who now, years later, is healthy but without her sister.
It was a great book, and with a cast of compelling characters, it could have been a phenomenal movie – but instead, the 2009 film, directed by Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) and starring Cameron Diaz as the mom and Abigail Breslin as Anna, was a total hacky mess because someone at the studio had the bright idea to totally change the ending (over complaints from book author Jodi Picoult). The film has Kate, not Anna, pass away in the shocking final moments, thereby changing the entire trajectory of the story. Any theme about the fragility and randomness of life one could read onto the tale was totally shot – or at least misdirected.
I’m not someone who gets hung up on small book-to-movie changes; I get that it’s a different medium, and it’s often impossible to keep everything the same. Plenty of changes to the movie – like aging down Anna and changing the gender of Judge De Salvo – I didn’t love but took as operating costs to make a better film. But drastically changing the ending of a story is beyond the pale. The overly manipulative movie wasn’t well reviewed (it got a 48 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and didn’t fare particularly well at the box office, likely because the emotional impact of the story is totally lost when the girl you expected to die the whole time dies at the end.
Just think if this becomes commonplace. What if studio heads thought they knew best about everything (Ha!), and regularly changed beloved book plot points that they thought would be hard to sell? What if Lisbeth Salander became more upbeat? What if Dumbledore didn’t die in the Harry Potter films because everyone really liked him? What if in Dear John, John and Savannah had a Hollywood ending and would up together after all? (Oh, wait.)
My Sister’s Keeper is always my go-to example for a book that I loved that the film version totally ruined. I bring this up now because – while thankfully there has been no evidence to support this – I’m very afraid that a movie studio will mess with the ending of another beloved book that has its fair share of tragic death: The Fault in Our Stars, coming to theaters next June. I get that it can be tempting to want to make a movie version of a story “your own” and not want to just copy the book. But studios need to realize they aren’t being creative, they’re just pissing off their most eager customers. Learn from the My Sister’s Keeper disaster. In cases of big endings, stick to the damn book.