Fifty years ago American novelist John Steinbeck penned that enormously successful book about a family ordered off their unproductive land, and their struggle to survive a cross-country quest for the "promised land." The Grapes of Wrath was transformed, awkwardly at best, into a movie, losing its emotional impact, and most of its artistic qualities. The contrasts between the two are startling.
Tom, just released from prison, is walking home with Casy. They are abruptly informed by Muley Graves, a farmer, that Tom's family has been "tractored" off the land by the "bank" and is headed for California. Living like an animal, Graves offers his heartfelt reasons for staying behind, all alone. Lighted by the flickering flame of candlelight, Muley cries: "I ain't gettin off. We was all born on it (the land) and some of us was killed on it and some of us died on it,that is what makes it ours." This is one of the few scenes in the film that tug at your heart strings. As the family prepares to leave, Grandpa, a senile, but feisty old man, refuses to go. Near tears, he declares that "This is my country and I belong here." Pointing to the land, he says " ...this is my dirt. It's no good, but it's mine, all mine."
The cinematography is excellent which makes The Grapes of Wrath visually appealing. In a flashback, as Muley Graves and family helplessly watch their house destroyed by a tractor. The camera pans to their gaunt faces, then it moves to a still of their long afternoon shadows. They are no longer people any more, but migrants looking for food and shelter - they are "Okies."
Both book and movie fulfill the title's symbol. At first the grapes represent promise: the fertile valleys of California, but then, they represent the wrath of the migrants as they realize that they have been lured unjustly to the West.Survival is now the utmost priority.
All in all, the movie is entertaining and definitely worth watching. If you want the full dramatic impact of the horrendous predicament of migrant workers, read the book; however, I strongly advise that you immerse yourself in the book and movie, for both media have their strengths and their weaknesses. What Grandpa dreamed, you can do: "I am going to get me a whole big bunch of grapes and I am going to squash them all over.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.