M Butterfly

RIUve played out the events of my life night after night, always
searching for a new ending to my story, one where I will leave this cell
and return forever to my ButterflyUs arms.S (Hwang 3.3.1-4) With these
words of David Henry HwangUs play M Butterfly, we realize that we have
just been staring directly into the memories of Rene Gallimard. The fact
that Rene Gallimard serves as the narrator of his memories in the play M
Butterfly delivers an impression of the character behind Gallimard than
could ever be achieved by the viewing of the screenplay. The existence of
Marc in the play as seen from GallimardUs perspective, the fact that
Gallimard serves as the main organizer of ideas in the play, and the
differing roles of Helga in the two works all lead to very different
impressions and interpretations by the reader or viewer.

GallimardUs narration seems to be the most obvious difference
between the movie and the play. While reading the play, the audience has
an opportunity to get to know the personality of Rene Gallimard, as well
as his feelings about certain topics. Such insight can be very crucial in
the impression that a character makes on an audience. GallimardUs persona
is very evident in the opening lines of the play. He remarks initially
about the dimensions of the cell, the atmosphere, and the living
conditions. Immediately, this paints a picture for the reader that is
very accurate physically, and the reader sees that Gallimard is
straightforward, and says what he means without very much preamble. As
the opening scenes develop, we also see the side of Gallimard that is the
dreamer. Rene definitely has visions of perfection, and they are
demonstrated when he remarks RAlone in this cell, I sit night after
night, watching our story play through my head, always searching for a
new ending, one which redeems my honor , where she returns at last to my
arms.S (1.3.7-11) Gallimard can be classified as a dreamer, and not only
because he is confined to a prison cell for many years. He has a vision
of how life is supposed to be, and feels rewarded when
he conforms to a stereotype. For example, he says RI knew this little
flower was waiting for me to call, and, as I wickedly refused to do so, I
felt the first time that rush of power — the absolute power of a man.S
(1.11. 8-10) Being Ra manS is important to Gallimard, and following the
so called RWestern FantasyS of having an affair with an Eastern woman is
tantalizing to him. Glimpses like these give the reader incredible
insight into the mind of Gallimard, which are very useful to explain
later actions in the story. A narrator builds a friendship with the
reader, a person that the audience can trust. We see the events from
GallimardUs side of things, which are much more distorted in the play
than the events that occur in the movie. The removal of the narrator in
the movie leaves the viewer to develop GallimardUs personality for
themselves, rather than get to know how he thinks. This puts the viewer
at an overall disadvantage for understanding the true meaning behind M
Butterfly.

Another significant part of the play that is omitted from the
movie is GallimardUs best friend from school, Marc. Marc is described as
a Rwomanizing cadS (1.3. 81) by Gallimard, giving the reader an obvious
first impression. He is developed as a character that is there for
Gallimard in times of need, and serves as someone that Gallimard can go
to in times of need. A friend like this does not exist in the movie, and
the viewer gets the sense that Gallimard is very quick in decision making
and has little doubt about his actions. In the play, however, we know
that this is not the case. There are several cases where Marc talks to
Gallimard in his head, and reasoning for decisions is explained. For
example, Marc says RAll your life youUve waited for a beautiful girl who
would lay down for you…..As the years pass, your hair thins and you
struggle to hold onto even your hopes. Stop struggling, Rene. The wait is
over.S (1.9.62, 67-69) Marc could be called the devilUs advocate, as he
seems to push Gallimard in the direction of pursuing his Butterfly. When
Gallimard remarks that he is married and should not have an affair, Marc
rebuts with RAnd an excellent one married man too. I cheated
after……six months.S (1.9. 40-41) In the movie, Gallimard makes the
decision on his own and the viewer is never exposed to the thought process.

Given that if every thought process was revealed the movie would run
about six hours, it seems that the important decisions are not pondered.
When the reader gets a chance to see these thought processes, it gives
them a sense of who Gallimard is, how he was brought up, and how the
people that he respects behave. On the other hand, the omission of this
information gives the viewer of the movie no idea what Gallimard values,
which in turn forces the viewer to believe that Gallimard had no trouble
making these decisions and has no remorse or conscience. Both
presentations create amazingly different pictures, and in turn create
very different impressions. Once again, the narration in the play creates
a very different image of Gallimard than the relative
straight-forwardness of the movie.

Another character who is very different between both the movie
and the play is that of GallimardUs wife, Helga. Though a seemingly minor
character in both works, her relevance is very important when discussing
the character of Gallimard. In the play, the physical appearance of Helga
not given, however one can only conclude that she is not particularly
attractive, as the second scene of the first act describes. A woman
remarks RWell, heUs not very good looking.S (1.2. 22) When immediately
faced with these impressions, one can assume that a man who is fairly
unattractive and has never had much with love with women would be married
to a woman on similar terms. Also, there is no time at which Gallimard
speaks openly about his wife, giving the reader a sense that she is not
important to him. Thus, the picture of Helga is created. This picture is
not shown in the movie, as Jeremy Irons does not show any type of
misfortune with respect to his previous love life. In fact, the idea that
Gallimard in the movie has a wife and eventually has two mistresses
creates the image that Gallimard is a lady’s man, and might have had
similar affairs previously. Strangely enough, these two conflicting
interpretations are both acceptable within the context of each the movie
and the play. Helga seems to show her face more in the play to inspire a
small feeling that what Gallimard is doing is wrong. In the movie, Helga
is hardly heard from, thus the viewer decides that they are married only
by law, and therefore cheating on his wife is not terrible. At the end
of the play, Gallimard tells Helga that he has been cheating, and her
reaction is
humorous. She accepts the fact that he has been cheating, and even
mentions that she expected it when she says RI knew you would. I knew you
would the day I married you.S (2.11.47-48) A comment like this proves the
earlier impression that the reader achieved when they believed that
ReneUs wife was far from important to him. Obviously, Helga was not in
love with Gallimard just as he was not in love with her, and both finally
understood each otherUs position. This final blow to GallimardUs
credibility is only hinted at in the movie, with the depiction of
Gallimard living by himself in an apartment until his Butterfly finds him
in France. Again, the audienceUs perception of GallimardUs personality is
different in both of these cases, with the reader of the play finding
Gallimard with less and less credibility while the viewer of the movie
sees the course of events as natural. This is another example of the
mental creation necessary to construct the story of the play while the
movie simply feeds the audience with information.

In conclusion, the audienceUs perception of Rene Gallimard is
much different in the play M Butterfly than in the movie of the same
title. Although David Henry Hwang wrote both the play and the screenplay,
the character development is far greater in the play. The reader must
create a picture of Gallimard by his impressions, reactions, and
interactions with characters from his past that simply do not exist in
the movie. Marc, GallimardUs best friend from school, does not exist in
the movie, but is the voice inside GallimardUs head throughout the play.
Helga, who exists in both works, has much more bearing in the book, again
shaping the readerUs impression of the kind of man that Gallimard really
is. The fact that the play employs a narrator and the movie does not
leads the reader down a different path, especially when the narrator is
Rene Gallimard himself. The human mind is one that is capable of creating
its own world. When viewing the movie, one sees a sense of Rene
GallimardUs world. When reading the play, one understands his world.

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