Tristram Shandy

1. The original Tristram Shandy is a book about writing a book. Author Laurence Sterne attempts to pen the life story of the unfortunate Tristram, but he struggles with it so much that the story becomes a book about writing a book. Sterne experiments extensively with narrative form, anticipating more modern styles of literature in the process;  he is reflexive, satirical, and experimental. Sterne ends up deciding that the book is impossible to write.

2. Just like how the book is about writing a book, the film is about making the film. It’s filmed like a pseudo-documentary, featuring Steve Coogan playing Steve Coogan playing Tristram Shandy.  The film focuses simultaneously on the adaptation of the book and the lives of the actors. They have their petty fights and explore their fragile egos, and the entire thing seems like a mockery of hollywood life and filming in general.

3. The book was thought to be unfilmable, and honestly, the movie neither supports nor refutes this statement. The film adaptation is about as good as it can possibly be–while it isn’t necessarily “true to the book” (it really can’t be), it captures the tricky, experimental, meta quality of the book. The book experimented with narrative structure in ways that can’t be translated well to film, but the film adapts these in its own way.

4. is an article for the Guardian that talks about Tristram Shandy as unfilmable in the context of other unfilmable books, like James Joyce’s Ulysses and The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. This article from the AV Club addresses something that none of the others have. It states that the funniest scene in the whole movie is when they call Gillian Anderson to be in the movie and play the part they’ve spontaneously decided to add, and Robert Brydon’s subsequent clumsy flirtation with her. It’s important because it seems like they missed a lot of the humor that translated from the book. This one compares book and their adaptations on a larger scale and claims that no one is ever truly satisfied by these adaptations.

5. How is the film a mockumentary (a documentary parody) and a parody of a “making of” film? And is such a project within the spirit of Sterne’s novel?

The film is a mockumentary in that it is filmed like a documentary, but none of the reality that’s shown is actually “real.” Steve Coogan is really playing an altered version of himself–similar to his normal life, yes, but exaggerated to the point of satire. It’s a parody of a making-of film in that it’s really a making-of a making-of film; what’s supposed to be real about the film is also acting, giving another layer to the parody.. This is completely in the spirit of the original novel; the original is a massive satirical parody of writing books, full of experimentation, and the film does the exact same.


2 thoughts on “Tristram Shandy

  1. I agree with your interpretation of this film as a mockumentary, not only that the actor’s are making fun of themselves but also the film industry as a whole. This seems to nicely dovetail with the book because the book itself is essentially about making fun of the narrative voice and the writing of a novel through Tristram’s obsession with writing his own life story perfectly. It seems to also nicely address the theme of the richness of life being too much for mere mortals like humans to experience all at once, and humor as an avenue for experiencing some of that richness.


  2. Your analysis of the book, film, and adaptation are good. Also good are your student research links, though at this point you should try to avoid reviews and search instead on social networking sites and look for academic sources. Ideas:

    Your critical argument paragraph does indeed contain an argument, but it’s not easy to find. Part of the problem is you lack a thesis statement. You write:

    ‘The film is a mockumentary in that it is filmed like a documentary, but none of the reality that’s shown is actually “real.”’

    That’s not a thesis, the seed of an argument. That’s more like a lead-in second sentence. How about something like:

    By satirizing the creative process in a very experimental way, Tristram Shandy the film proves itself to be a good adaptation of the book.

    That, in my reading, is what you’re trying to argue.

    10/10. Joseph Byrne. ENGL329B.


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