**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (1997)
Cold Mountain directed Anthony Minghella by (2003)
Before getting into this, I wanted to say thank you to Chris for requesting this book/movie! I had heard of the movie, but it was not at all on mu radar prior to him suggesting it! As we will get into, I loved both of these and was so glad I read them!
If you have a request for a book and movie combo you want to hear me cover, you can comment on my YouTube channel or my Instagram! I don’t always get to it right away, someone else requested Love, Rosie a while back and I downloaded the book yet still haven’t gotten around to it. The Road has also been requested twice and I plan to cover that a little later this year! I love receiving recommendations and putting out content my audience wants to hear!
Thoughts on the Book
This book is beautifully written, but I could see some people thinking it just moves too slow. However, I enjoyed the time Frazier takes in describing Inman and Ada’s separate journeys. I will say, it took my till I was almost halfway (40% to be exact, I read this on my kindle) for me to feel truly invested in what was happening. Around that time is also when I realized this is a retelling of The Odyssey. Being able to put the story and the events in that framework helped me to appreciate it even more and see what Frazier was doing and the purpose various scenes served.
Frazier is so vivid in his writing, there were times when I was reading where I felt so immersed in the story; when the real world fell away and I felt I was there, side by side with Inman or Ada or Ruby. I love when a book is able to have that magical, transporting effect.
I love sharing at least a couple quotes from the book, and this quote I am about to share may seem like a random one, but again, it is so vivid and the two scenes contrast each other so much, I thought it was a good example of what Frazier will do in this book. To set the scene real quick, Inman comes across a mama bear and its baby and the mama bear ends up dying so Inman is left with this bear cub in front of him.
“To his credit, Inman could imagine reaching up and grabbing the cub by the scruff of its neck and saying, We’re kin. Then taking his knapsack off and thrusting the cub in with only its head sticking out. Then putting the pack back on and walking away, the bear looking about from this new perspective as bright-eyed as a papoose. Give it to Ada as a pet. Or if she turned him away, he might raise it to be a part-tame bear, and when full grown it might stop by his hermit cabin on Cold Mountain now and again for company. Bring its wife and children so that in years to come Inman could have an animal family if no other. That would be one way this dead bear calamity might be rectified. What Inman did, though, was all he could do. He picked up the [gun] and shot the cub in the head and watched it pause as its grip on the tree failed and it fell to ground.”
All in all, even though it may have taken me a bit to feel truly attached to the characters, I loved this book and would highly recommend it. Even though it can seem lengthy, and we go on a lot of tangents where someone Inman or Ada meet tell them their story and it may not seem relevant, I never got bored and enjoyed reading about each person’s story.
I will add though, that when reading books that take place in the south when slavery was happening, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for the characters who take part in something so terrible. The movie makes a point to show Ada bringing root beer out to the slaves-though she later admits she was just using that as an excuse to talk to Inman. The movie also makes a point to have Inman say the line about how he isn’t willing to die for a cause he doesn’t believe in, making a point to show that out protagonists aren’t racist, despite living in the south and being surrounded by slavery and then choosing to fight to keep slavery, even if they themselves don’t own slaves. Frazier also could have included more prominent black characters, there are many opportunities considering Inman comes across so many people in his travels, yet they are mostly all white.
I would love to do an in-depth analysis talking about the parallels between Cold Mountain and The Odyssey. For now, a brief overview will have to do.
I have never read The Odyssey, but I know some of the bigger details of the story. When Inman and Veasey are at Junior’s with the strange liquor and all of the women, that is when I realized it was similar to The Odyssey. I think the Sirens are one of the most well-known elements of that story. We also have the Homeguard trying to prevent Inman from reaching his love, whereas Odysseus has Poseidon trying to stop him. From what I hear, The Odyssey also goes back in forth telling what is happening with Odysseus and what is happening with his wife, Persephone. Cold Mountain does the same, as we go back and forth. A lot of the people Inman meets on his journey, also have a parallel character whom Odysseus meets. Cold Mountain is great on its own, but I do think having this be a retelling of this classic tale, adds to its re-readability and it is one I will definitely return to.
Lately, it seems like the movies I watch for these episodes are always so long! This was yet another 2.5 hour long movie! When I saw that I was like, man, why can’t one of these movies just be 90 minutes?? Lol. Which is funny to say, because I’m a huge movie person and length doesn’t usually bother me. Anyway, even though this seemed so long, as I was watching it, it went by so fast! Always a good sign.
The movie is also very true to the book, so there won’t be many differences to discuss.
Jude Law is in the lead role of Inman. I feel neutral when it comes to Law as an actor, but overall, I thought he was great as Inman.
Nicole Kidman is pretty well cast as Ada. She really captures the well to do lady, who isn’t use to life on a farm, who eventually becomes tough and learns how to tend to her land. He fake southern accent was distracting at first, but I got used to it as the movie went on.
Renee Zellweger won about every award there is for her role of Ruby. She is perfectly cast in this and is excellent as Ruby, the woman who works to teach Ada how to work the farm. I loved their friendship in the book, and I think the movie does a good job portraying their bond.
Brendan Gleeson is a great actor, and here he plays Stobrod, Ruby’s dad.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the brief role of Veasey and provides a lot of comic relief before his character is shot dead.
Natalie Portman is the woman Sara and is only in maybe ten minutes of the movie. She is incredible though and her scenes are so powerful and tragic. Portman had auditioned for Ada, and I think she would have been amazing in the lead. I do think she looked too young at the time for the role. She was about 22, but Portman looks young for her age, so she still looked like a teenager and Ada is supposed to be in her mid to late twenties. Anyway, I will be talking a bit more about Portman’s character later as we get into the differences.
People Inman meets
The movie includes all of the major events that happen while Inman is on his way home. Some events might be shuffled around, we learn less details of the people he meets, and some of the smaller scenes are left out. But overall, it is very close to the book.
I thought it would be interesting to list the people he meets in the book, a lot of which parallel The Odyssey. If you are very familiar with The Odyssey, I would love for you to comment who these people in Cold Mountain parallel in The Odyssey.
-the blindman outside the hospital (whom I have read could be a representation of Homer)
-the young woman who takes him across the river (in the movie this character is killed but, in the book, they are shot at but not killed)
-Veasey, who is trying to kill a young woman who is pregnant with his child
-later comes across Veasey once more and they pair up
-a brothel, where there is gun fire but Inman and Veasey get away
-Junior who is trying to get a bull out of the water and he then takes them to his home where all the women are (this is a great scene in the movie, when Junior is dancing with his crazy eyes, and it’s loud and there is eerie music playing in a subtle way)
-the Homeguard catches them, and Inman is able to escape
-the goat woman who nurses him back to health
-Sara the young woman with a baby
-the bear he comes across (not in the movie)
-in the end, coming across Teague and being killed by a young man who is with Teague and refuses to surrender (in the movie, this character is played by Charlie Hunnan and his character is pretty cliché with how weird and evil he is, different than the book where the guy that kills Inman is young and just foolish, not necessarily evil)
-There are also other people Inman comes across more briefly, but they help him by giving him maps or food or what-have-you.
I will start with Sara, even though she is one of the later people Inman comes across.
The book and movie show that she is alone with her baby and she asks Inman to lay in bed with her, just lay together, but not do anything sexual. While laying side by side, she starts crying and tells him what she has been through.
In the movie, they add that her baby is sick and won’t breastfeed, however in the book the baby was fine and was eating. Portman is so amazing here and the scenes with her made me tear up.
In both, she wakes Inman up early because men are approaching. In the book, he hides in the woods and watches as they take her hog and chickens. As they leave, she yells saying that if they take her hog, she and her baby are as good as dead. Inman then runs after the men and kills them and takes back the hog and chickens. He returns to Sara and helps her slaughter the hog and the next day he heads out.
In the movie, they take the hog, and a man attempts to rape Sara but Inman kills him along with another soldier. Inman lets the third soldier (played by Cillian Murphy) run off, but as he is running, Sara shoots him. The camera lingers on Jude Law and his expression tells the weariness he feels over all the violence he’s had to endure and witness.
The movie has a deleted scene in which Sara’s baby dies, and she then shoots herself. I’m glad they removed this scene because one, this didn’t happen in the book, and two, it’s just so incredibly sad! Her story is sad enough in what the movie did keep.
There is a scene in the book where Sara is singing, and it says how sad the song is, reading, “It was like watching a bitter fight carried to a costly draw. The sound of her was that of a woman of the previous century living on in the present, that old and weary. Sara was such a child to sound that way. Had she been an old woman who long ago in her youth sang beautifully, one might have said that she had learned to use the diminished nature of her voice to maximum effect, that it was a lesson in how to live with damage, how to make peace with it and use it for what it can do. But she was not an old woman. The effect was eerie, troubling. You’d have thought the baby would cry out in distress to hear its mother in such a state, but it did not. It fell asleep in her arms as to a lullaby.”
Ruby’s dad, Stobrod is a great character in book and movie. We get more with him in the book, but the movie does a decent job showing who he is and we still get a decent character arc from him. One change though, in the book Ada has her qualms with Stobrod, but she says that one good thing she can say is that he never laid a hand on her. Whereas in the movie, it seems like he beat Ada quite a lot when she was growing up.
The movie has a scene early on when Inman is with a soldier who is dying and they have Stobrod come over and play something on his fiddle as the man dies. This wasn’t in the book, rather Stobrod was asked to play music for a man’s daughter who was dying. I really loved this scene. It was comical in some ways, while also touching. Stobrod only knows lively tunes, and so that’s what he played even though it was not at all appropriate for the circumstances. The girl says why he doesn’t just play a song of his own, and prior to this he had never made his own music. But this experience opens him up to playing his own songs, which tend to be more touching and deeper.
When he plays a song for Ada and Ruby, Ruby kind of brushes it off, but Ada thinks,
“To Ada, though, it seemed akin to miracle that Stobrod, of all people, should offer himself up as proof positive that no matter what a waste one has made of one’s life, it is ever possible to find some path to redemption, however partial.”
In the book and movie, Stobrod becomes friends with a simple-minded man named Pangle. In the book we learn more about their bond, but basically in the outlier’s camp, Pangle became attached to Stobrod because of the music. Then Pangle gets a banjo somehow, and it turns out he had a knack for playing and the two make music together. His relationship with Pangle, which was a sort of father/son bond was also touching to see with Stobrod.
Ethan Suplee is great as Pangle, and in both book and movie he is shot by Teague.
Speaking of Teague. In the movie he is a bigger character and is often harassing Ada. In the book, I don’t think he and Ada ever met and Teague himself wasn’t even mentioned till maybe halfway through the book. The movie really plays this up, and when they find Stobrod and Pangle, Ada and Ruby are mentioned and Stobrod tries to defend them. But yeah, in the book, Teague didn’t know who Ada or Ruby were and that wasn’t a thing. Teague also kills the neighbor, Escow and nearly kills his wife Sally, because their sons left the war and were hiding out with them. This also didn’t happen in the book.
Another surprising actor that I hadn’t known would be in this, is someone who isn’t even an actor-Jack White from the White Stripes! He plays Georgia, a man who joins up with Stobrod and Pangle. In the book, he meets up with them and wants their help getting back home to Georgia. He sees Stobrod and Pangle get shot and runs to tell Ruby and Ada. While they leave, he stays at their house and is still there when they return. He and Ruby end up marrying, and in the book, there is a bit of an age gap between the two and it says how Ruby basically groomed him into becoming the kind of man she would like. But when we see ten years later, it seems they are happy.
In the movie, it seems he has been with Stobrod and Pangle for a while. The movie shows he and Ruby making eyes and has multiple lines that show us that they each are interested in the other. So, in the end, when we see they are together, it isn’t surprising. In the book, I was s bit surprised when I read they got married, but I liked it and thought it seemed fitting an end.
Ruby is very similar from book to movie. Zellweger really captures her character. One thing from the book that was left out, and I agree it didn’t need to be in the movie, but it was still interesting and odd-is that Stobrod told Ruby that her mother claimed Ruby wasn’t his child. Sounds like the mom and Stobrod didn’t have the best relationship, but she would sometimes say that Ruby’s father was actually a blue heron. Ruby knows this isn’t true, yet whenever she see’s a heron, she can’t help but feel weird about them. This seems like such an odd story, and I wonder if this is another story that is referencing The Odyssey or mythology in some way.
Anyway, Ruby is such a great character and loves Ada and loves Black Cove. The movie has the scene where Inman asks Ruby’s permission if he can live at Black Cove, and you can see that this sign of acknowledgement and respect means so much to her. This wasn’t in the book, and I thought it was a great scene that the movie added.
Inman and Ada’s relationship
Early in the movie, Ada writes Inman telling him to stop fighting and come back to her. In the book this didn’t happen. She does write him a short note, saying something about how she wants him to come back to her, but he never receives it. He leaves, because as we see in the movie, he is getting better and will soon be sent back to fighting and he doesn’t want to fight anymore. The book and movie both have the blindman he talks to at the hospital and I loved these scenes in both book and movie.
Anyway, back to Inman and Ada, the movie has Inman say how he is on his way back to her but admitting that they hardly know each other and yet he is hoping she is waiting for him. When they are with each other finally in the movie, Inman tells her:
“Inman-You are all that keeps me from sliding into some dark place.
Ada-But how did I keep you? We barely knew each other. A few moments.
Inman-A thousand moments. They’re like a bag of tiny diamonds glittering in the black heart. Don’t matter if they’re real or things I made up…”
I like that the movie added this, because they each held on to the other, even though a lot of the time, the person they were holding onto was more imagination than real. Yet even so, it made a difference in their life.
I think that makes this a unique love story, with both book and movie, but almost maybe more so in the movie because they admit to not even knowing each other whereas I don’t remember that explicitly being talked about in the book. I guess the book doesn’t need to explicitly talk about it thought because from their memories and thoughts we can see that they don’t know each other well.
The movie leaves out that Ada was a bit older and hadn’t been at all interested in marriage. Inman made an effort with her, but she was pretty blasé. In the movie, we don’t see that she had not been interested in marriage, and seems to put more of an effort in. In the book though, they start seeing each other before leaving for the war, they see each other but it’s kind of awkward and Ada regrets the way she spoke to him. She later goes to where he is staying and sees him before he leaves to make up for it which is also shown in the movie.
Like when they were courting, when they are reunited, they are just kind of awkward around each other in the book. I found these details very true to life and relatable in some ways. However, they open up to each other more and that night Ada goes into his room. She is wearing pants (because they are up in the woods, and she and Ruby wore pants to be more practical and warmer). She is taking them off, but it is awkward and she stumbles with one leg in and one leg out. She looks and Inman and he is looking at her. She feels embarrassed and asks him to turn around but he says not for all the money in the federation.
In the movie, their love scene didn’t start out with this awkward, yet relatable moment, it just gets right to the steamy stuff. With the book though, I liked the awkwardness Ada feels, but I also liked how Inman wasn’t bothered by it and didn’t find it embarrassing, on the contrary really. After having sex in the book, it reads, “And they did what lovers often do when they think the future stretches out endless before them as bright as on the noon of creation day: they talked ceaselessly of the past, as if each must be caught up on the other’s previous doings before they can move forward paired.”
Book or Movie
This is a tough one, because the movie stays so true to the novel, and is so well made and engaging, just as the book was. Even though I knew what would happen, I never felt bored watching the movie and was fully invested in the events. The cinematography is beautiful, and the casting is spot on.
The book, as I said, is so vivid and eloquent and powerful. I forgot another passage I wanted to share, which is from early on when Inman is thinking about his neck wound when he was first in the hospital reading, “But mainly the wound had wanted to clean itself. Before it started scabbing, it spit out a number of things: a collar button and a piece of wool collar from the shirt he had been wearing when he was hit…” May not be the most beautiful passage, but it is so unique and descriptive, it really sticks with you! Frazier can write a touching, beautiful scene just as well as he can write a gruesome or disturbing scene. Ada has a nightmare about her dad that is descriptive, and the events Inman witnesses in the war are also upsetting, but not described in an over-the-top way but definitely in a way that sticks with you.
In the end, as much as I loved the movie, I think the books wins due to all the extra details we get.