‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ becomes lost in translation

By Marilyn MacLaren, Staff Writer

“Where the Crawdads Sing” (2022) is a murder mystery and coming-of-age story, directed by Olivia Newman, that was released on July 13. The film stars Daisy Edgar Jones as Kya Clark, the elusive and wild “Marsh Girl” who grew up isolated from the other residents of Barkley Cove in North Carolina. 

Tate Walker, played by Taylor John Smith, serves as both guide and primary love interest in Kya’s life, teaching her to read and write after being abandoned by her family. The two eventually form a romantic relationship but are torn apart after Tate breaks his promise to come back for her after college. 

Harris Dickinson also joins the cast as star quarterback Chase Andrews, whose dark intentions and disturbing interest in Kya have unexpected consequences. With the mysteries surrounding his death, Kya becomes the prime murder suspect and has to face the wrath of the community that has been against her since the beginning. 

The cast also includes Logan Macrae as Jodie, Kya’s older brother and closest sibling, along with Sterling Macer Jr. and Micahel Hyatt as loving couple Jumpin and Mabel respectively.

The film is based on the New York Times bestselling novel of the same name. Written by Delia Owens, the novel has sold more than 15 million copies since its release in 2018, according to the publishing company Penguin Random House. This number continues to climb due to its rise in popularity from the news of the film adaptation alone to its release. 

Considering its critical acclaim, the pressure from fans of the novel for a film that does the original characters and storyline justice is immensely high and can be hard to achieve. The screenplay, which was written by Lucy Alibar without the involvement of Owens, was held at a standard to stay true to the source material even before the controversy surrounding Owens and her questionable 1996 involvement in Zambia was uncovered. 

Despite the commitment to the novel on the surface, including being produced by Reese Witherspoon who has been outspoken about her love for the story, where did the film go wrong? Crucial changes, most notably using Kya as the narrator rather than the original third person, made the storyline unfamiliar from Kya’s perspective, which didn’t agree with fans and critics alike. 

The novel focuses on the dynamic Kya has with the various men in her life, which seem to stem from the abusive relationship she had with her father who left her to fend for herself in the wilderness. Although Kya received some guidance and care from those closest to her, she copes through cycles of abandonment and isolation from the men in her life she believed she could trust. 

The film presents these relationships much differently than in the novel, particularly with Chase Andrews and distorting his pursuit of her into a one-sided relationship. Tate, who promised to return after setting off for college, never does and the audience is expected to forgive him along with Kya when he eventually returns in exchange for keeping her secret about the murder. 

The shortcomings of the film, from the presentation of the murder to Kya and her aspirations along with coping with her childhood, will surely bring more attention to the novel itself rather than what the film was trying to accomplish from the novel.

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