Cold Mountain

It was a Sunday afternoon when we left the theatre. Staring at the dazzling sunshine outside, my thought was still lying in some dark corner of the cinema. It was a good movie. But something was not quite right. It was as if the director was reluctant and bit his tongue, as if a half-told story, a joke without its punch line, or a poem that was missing its most crucial line. The rest was still good, solid, beautiful, and well done. But incomplete.

Then at Cat’s blog, I saw the link to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain Diary on Salon.com. Mystery solved. Charles Frazier’s writing is quiet and passionate. The writing style itself made me realized what was missing from the movie.

Charles Frazier said:

“I was not then thinking about writing a Civil War novel, and though I am triply qualified for acceptance into the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I remain largely uninterested in the great movements of troops, the famous personality traits of the noble generals and tragic presidents. What I am interested in are those two double graves and what they seem to represent.

“I knew I wanted to write about those old lifeways, but I needed some point of access. I was given such an entry not long after that day on Caldwell Fork when my father told me about an ancestor of ours, a man named Inman who left the war and walked home wounded. The man who killed the fiddler was waiting for him when he reached the mountains. The story seemed like an American odyssey and it also seemed to offer itself as a form of elegy for that lost world I had been thinking about. So I set out on Inman’s trail and followed it for five years of writing.”

These four diary entries made by Charles Frazier painted the missing piece from the movie. Since I didn’t read the book, I can only guess what the book was like based on these diaries. “Cold Mountain” was written as “a form of elegy for that lost world,” while the movie seemed to concentrate more on the horror of war and the beauty of Ada and Inman’s love story. What was absent from the movie was that nostalgia, the quietness of Charles Frazier’s voice. I wonder whether it was because Nicole Kidman’s stardom robed Ada of her quietness, of her anonymity. I wonder if the movie would have been a complete different creature had the director cast completely new actors like LOTR has done. The movie seemed to strive for something more grand, something similar to the English Patient, War, Love, Humanity, Grand Passion; meanwhile, it kept getting pulled back by the book’s original calm yet powerful nostalgia. At the end, we have this slightly confused movie, like a bewildered child, not sure which parent’s order he should have followed.