Article published on January 22, 2018.
Stronger is the story of Jeff Bauman, a man in the wrong place at the wrong time – the finishing line of the Boston Marathon in 2013 when a terrorist bomb exploded. Jeff lost both legs in the blast and became the figurehead for “Boston Strong”, the city’s defiant response to the atrocity.
The film version is dominated by a mesmerising Oscar-worthy performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. I was less comfortable with the depiction of those around him. The working-class American culture of sport, beer and banter I found quite distancing and I was concerned this might be amplified in the book.
It actually isn’t. I found the book less sobering and more hopeful. In the film, Jeff seems quite isolated from those around him, trying to do his best for himself. I felt the support more appropriate in the book, with him existing less as a vacuum. He is involved with others injured in the blast right from the start; he is actually with a couple of his girlfriend’s friends at the marathon and not alone as shown in the film and their recovery does influence his.
The narrative arc of the film puts Jeff into a downward spiral which levels out only when he eventually agrees to meet Carlos, the man who saved his life at the scene, whereas Carlos was actually a vital part of Jeff’s recovery right from the start.
Of course, real life is more complex than movie adaptations and I got a lot from the book about the stages Jeff went through, both physically and mentally, and he comes across more rounded than the film’s depiction. There he is portrayed as the man who “never shows up”, the irony being when he did he ended up losing his legs. In real life he seems more reliable and supportive. Smaller events have been combined and ramped up to add dramatic value to the movie, inevitably. The film should be seen for its tour-de-force lead performance and strong back-up from Miranda Richardson as well as hitting home one man’s determination to succeed. The book should be read for its stronger emphasis on hope and support and for a community’s response to a personal tragedy caused by an atrocity.
Book vs. Film: Stronger by Jeff Bauman
Blink Publishing 9781911274582 pbk Nov 2017