Condensing 200 odd pages of deep philosophical McKewen themes into a 90 minute film is no easy task, and judging from many of the reviews both online and offline that tend to see this as just as another mediocre thriller about pyschological obsession, one might think that Roger Michell has failed miserably in his task.
Bar the ending, the film adaptation certainly follows the Ian McKewan book quite faithfully, with the minor changes that have been made, such as Joe becoming a published academic who teaches his students that love is simply a darwinian trick to get us to copulate, designed seemingly to stress the key issues of the original novel - can man live guided only by a scientific understanding of himself and the world, and would such a life in fact be worth living?
These conundrums are expressed in the film sometimes a little too obviously to the point of crudeness (the camera zooms in and out of focus from a dazed Jed to a bunch of ripe apples). But the consequences of eating from forbidden fruit of knowledge, the letting go of innocent and empty illusions and the resulting madness and chaos, are brought to life on the whole superbly, especially in the opening of the film, pure McKewen of course, but in Michell's cinematic evocation of it, simply unforgettable. As Joe lets go of the doctor, the boy and the balloon, just as he has let go of the safe and contented predictablity of everyday faith in the world, its love and its meanings, he discovers that only unpredictable tragedy ensues.
And yet this film, a little like the novel, never quite becomes the classic that you feel it could and should have been. Despite this, it remains a well crafted, admirably acted and, so long as you don't try to understand the apparently confusing plot as a simple thriller, a film with lots of rewarding meaning to extract.