Remediation in the Filmic Adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of no Nation

Nurayn Fola Alimi and Samuel Oladimeji Kuye

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Abstract

This study examines the deployment of elements of transparent immediacy and hypermediacy in the filmic adaptations of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel, Beast of No Nation. The study explicates the audio-visual elements in the film text in relation to fidelity to the precursor text, the novel. Audio visual elements are techniques of remediation which are not possible in the written texts but which are possible in motion pictures. Specifically, this paper identifies aspects of diegetic and extra-diegetic music as these are used in the film text to mediate and consolidate the relationship between creativity in movie production and audience acceptance of reality. Furthermore, the paper analyses these elements with the aim to also relate them to the themes in the novel text. During the process of remediation, diegetic and non-diegetic sound tracks function in the film text as part of the transparent immediacy. This essentially makes the film audience to feel reality as authentic as they forget or ignore creativity in the narrative culture for ‘actuality-like’ effect in the film.

Key words: Remediation, Adaptation, film text, transparent immediacy, hypermediacy, Novel.

Introduction

This study examines the deployment of elements of transparent immediacy and hypermediacy in the filmic adaptations of the novel Beast of No Nation. The study is anchored on the nexus between film and literary texts as theorized in Intertextuality, explicating the audio-visual elements (the extra diegetic elements) in the film text and how these are deployed in relation to fidelity to the precursor text, the novel. Audio visual elements are techniques of remediation which are not possible in the written texts but which are possible in motion pictures. Thus, this paper identifies extra-diegetic music as these are explored in the film text to mediate and consolidate the relationship between creativity and audience acceptance of reality. Furthermore, the paper analyses these elements with the aim to also relate them to the themes in the novel text and to emphasize that the film audience is bound to feel reality as authentic as they forget or ignore creativity in the narrative culture for ‘actuality-like’ effect in the film. The paper is divided into three sections, establishing the context in which the concept remediation is used in the section immediately following this introduction. The third section is devoted to analysis of the non-diegetic music deployed as part of the style in the production of the movie while the final section concludes the essay.

The Context for Remediation

In the process of film adaptation, the film text is a multimedia production of the literary production. This relationship between the film and literature is well established in the theory of intertextuality where both texts are characterized by storytelling or narrative culture. Notwithstanding that the written work appeal to reading audience while the audio-visual work appeal to spectatorial audience.  Although Frank J. D’Angelo observes that “the first mode of intertextuality is adaptation” (33), in general terms, adaptation is often understood as a composition that has been recast into a new form, which however, does not focus on the genre but on the recasting and the newness. One important thing to note is the word ‘recast’ as conveys the idea of remodeling or remaking, into a new appearance. Thus, Ingeborg Hoesterey has observed that, “an adaptation is “the modification of artistic material transposed from one genre to another” (D’ Angelo 10). This view of adaptation corroborates Julie Sanders view who remarks that adaptation, “signals a relationship with an informing source text or original” (D’Angelo 34). It appears that scholars of intertextuality have, judging from the foregoing, simply identified the essential techniques involved in the creation of a new text based on inspiration or reaction to another text. But, on the part of the critic, it is the analysis of a text, the creating of meaning, the interpretation of a text in relation to another text which precedes it and serves as a source to it. Adaptation, rather than being a synonym for remediation, is a technique that is deployed in the process of adaptation and this shows the nexus between the two concepts in intertextual studies, particularly between the literary work and the film.

Remediation ordinarily means the act of remedying something else. In other words, it is a way of correcting an error or fault because it provides remedy or redress. This is, however, not the idea of remediation in literary criticism of an adaptation as it suggests a method or process in multimedia production. Bolter and Grusin contextualize Remediation as “a particular kind of intermedial relationships in which, through processes of medial refashioning, “both newer and older (media) forms are involved in a struggle for culture recognition” (24). They explained that the new media must learn “appropriating and refashioning the representational practices of these older forms. (25) All mediation, according to Bolter and Grusin is remediation.

A further clarification of what Remediation means in this paper is apt when the concept is understood as the way a multimedia culture shapes a literary text during the process of adaptation into film transformed into another culture. Remediation deploys a number of strategies in the process of transforming the precursor text. One of these strategies is hypermediacy which is generally understood as a ‘style of visual representation whose goal is to remind the viewer of the medium’ (Bolter and Grusin 272). The other remediation strategy is called transparent immediacy. It is the opposite of hypermediacy: it makes the reader or viewer forget the medium and give in to the illusion that what they experience is immediate and direct. Bolter and Grusin note that 3D movies work within ambit of transparent immediacy the same way fantasy novels do by inviting the audience to suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in a fictional world. This is done in such a way that, transparent immediacy becomes a “style of visual representation whose goal is to make the viewer forget the presence of the medium (canvas, photographic film, cinema, and so on) and believe that he is in the presence of the objects of representation” (272–73).

According to Susan Gerhamann, “the technical innovation of media, the invention of new media, and the spread of their availability will always generate new forms of remediation (67).’’ When clothes of a big person are to be worn by a small person there is a need to reshape the clothes. It is the same clothing material but it is not the same clothes per se. There has been a refashioning from big to small, large to fit. Relating this to literature, ‘big’ does not mean the novel is more important than the movie but that it is unarguably larger in scope. The only way film adaptation can obtain fidelity with the large scope of the novel is by producing it as a series. Technicality in movie production is not the same as technicality in book publishing. The way this difference mediates between the narrative of the story and that of the movie is remediation. It is in this context of the relationship between the literary text and the film through remediation that the filmic adaptation of  Iweala’s Beasts of no Nation is analysed in this paper. While the paper holds the meaning of remediation as the pivotal concept anchoring the analysis of the film, it identifies the aspects of remediation which are deployed in the process of adaptation, the extra-diegetic or non-diegetic music. Thus what follows in the next section is the analysis of the background songs used as non- diegetic elements of the film to achieve a level of fidelity to the precursor text.

In the remediation process of adaptation, an extra diegetic or non-diegetic music is a song that is used primarily as background music, and not as part of the narrative. It is used in certain scenes for special hypermedial effect which functions to make the audience remain aware of the elements of the culture of the media by reminding them to not forget that the media has audio-visual capacity. Non-diegetic music is different in style and function from diegetic music, which refers to the music or soundtrack that is part of the narrative and can be heard by the characters. Unlike non-diegetic music, the characters in the film or movie are aware of diegetic or even probably involved in the singing of it and possibly dance to it. Thus Hypermediacy, using elements of the media to remind the viewer or audience of the culture of the media (to make them not forget that they are engaged with the media) includes the use of background soundtrack as extra-diegetic music. When the soundtrack has a title, it becomes very significant. This is because it is no more a random soundtrack but a soundtrack chosen or made on purpose as deployed in the filmic adaptation of Beasts of no Nation.

Music as Extra-Diegetic or Non-Diegetic Aspects of Remediation in Beasts of no Nation

Beasts of no Nation is presented as a fictional story of war which is set in a fictional African society. But there are no insertions of any historical newsreel or Documentary in the film. Neither are there songs but instrumentals. The instrumental at certain scenes are important to both the atmosphere of the scenes and to the general atmosphere of the movie. Consequently, the critic does not ignore their importance to the interpretation of the process of adaptation. To begin with, it can be noted that each of the instrumental for each scene in Beasts of no Nation has a title and the instrumentals are written and produced by Dan Romers. The instrumentals are: “A Good Family”, No Boy, no Bargaining”, “Leaving Home”, “I Save Your Life”, “A Sleeping Beast”, “No Talking, these are the Ones”, “Better Look me in the Eyes”, “Helicopters”, “Guns Up”, “Are You Watching us?”, “A Song for Strika”, “Surrender” and “Back to the Ocean”. Each of them is analysed in detail.

The soundtrack, “A Good Family” (04:33-05-50) begins with Agu’s (the protagonist) voice over, saying, “I am a good boy, from a good family.” Significantly, the statement portrays him as a child who is innocent and whose family is innocent. In the film his father who is a teacher is characterised as a good man who cares about his family and about the people in the community while his mother is depicted as a good wife and mother who cares for the family. She cooks, she plays with the children and she teaches the protagonist about God. In the movie, this song relates Agu’s childhood innocence, his simple and ignorance about things in his environment but he is playful too. Although the movie, through this non-diegetic song seeks to capture the basic background experiences of the protagonist as an innocent boy, the general atmosphere in these set of scenes prepares the audience for emotional development that lead to the capturing of the tragic plot narrative of the novel. The atmosphere is a passionate one where we see humans who are not beasts and a boy who is harmless.

The next soundtrack “No Boy, No Bargaining” (15:55 – 18:07) relates to Agu’s father discussion with his mother about sending her to a safe place together with her son; his brother tells him that father is sending him away because he is just a boy. Typically, as a child he prefers to go away with his mother and younger sister instead of staying with his father. Unfortunately, the driver engaged to take them says, “No Boy, no Bargaining” because he will only take the boy along with the mother and sister if his father can pay him seventy thousand. For the driver, the bargain is not a matter of space or seat in the car but about money. Thus, the driver does not take the young man and for this Agu cries bitterly, indicating a very sad moment for him. While one can clearly see the selfish, or capitalist and heartless act of the driver, as an extortionist the essence of the song is to re-emphasise the boyhood of the protagonist. The theme of poverty resonates as an issue which relates to the theme of war in this case. In other words, poverty is one of the reasons many people turn to beasts when they are caught up in the war situation. It then means that most victims of wars are the poor or that war often turns people to become poor. Indeed, most fighters in wars are not the rich. If there has been seventy thousand to give the driver, Agu will have escaped the horrors he witnesses and he will not have become horrible himself. We also see that at the moment of war, there are opportunist capitalists who will exploit the people and make more money by trading during the war.

“Leaving Home” (22:53-26:18) is significantly sorrowful and scary. There is no speech and Agu is alone in the bush wandering after his father, brother, and grandfather have been killed with other men and women. For musical effect, the instrumental is louder and intensifies the feeling of sympathy towards him; the little Boy as he wanders about, eating leaves, vomiting and running. Ironically, he is actually not “Leaving Home” because he has no home or family again. But the title is significant because he has been severed from his family forever even though this is a little different from what happens in the novel text. In the novel, members of his family are not killed until he has escaped so he still doubts if they are murdered. But in the movie, he tells Commandant that the soldiers are killing his family and his father is telling him to run. The song underscores the common experience that war makes many people homeless and vulnerable to dangers of dying physically or emotionally. Agu is about to die emotionally and become emotionless with intrusive remembrance of his past. Capturing this downturn in the protagonist’s experience, the soundtrack effectively becomes pensive and evoking sympathy.

The soundtrack “I Save your Life” (31:55 – 34:04) shows that the saviour does not want the saved to forget the act of saving. The saviour, who reminds the saved of being saved by him is a demanding saviour to whom the saved is perpetually expected to be grateful and indebted. In this film, Commandant is the saviour, a “king beast” and a “beast-maker”. He saves Agu from being killed by not giving the order for him to be killed saying “I save your life, I save your life, I save your life”. This repetition is very significant because the protagonist is spared in preparation for his transformation to a beast. The price for saving his life by Commandant is for him to take a life (of an innocent engineer) and subsequently that of many innocent people. This reinstates the common war-clause or notion of “kill or be killed”. Since Agu’s life has been significantly taken from him, he has become in the process a property of Commandant because the latter saves his life. Agu is now under obligation to continue to pay whatever price Commandant demands from him for saving his life. It is to reiterate once again that, Agu is a boy from a good family. In this regard, the soundtrack portrays Agu’s character in his transformative stage as he truly has become: miserable and vulnerable. Even though he seems lucky that he is saved, the viewer whose sympathy has been aroused by Agu’s parting from his mother and sister and by the massacre of his grandfather, father and brother will only be relieved that he is spared because this sympathy soon turns into confusion and terror or fear for what he eventually becomes, a beast.

Agu who has escaped death as a little boy has become a murderer. His goodness and innocence is now wiped away the same way his families are wiped away. This reminds one of Shakespeare’s ‘fair is foul and foul is fair” in Macbeth. Indeed, the soundtrack reinforced the mixed feeling of pity and displeasure in the mind of the viewer. It only suggests that even if the audience does not hate Agu for killing because it is made obvious that he has to kill or be killed, they (audience) gets to see the horror of war transforming an innocent boy into a murderer just for him to survive. War is a terrible experience; the track “I Save your Life” provides a vivid sound imagery of its experience as commandant also makes Agu to fellate him and sexually abuse Agu. The soundtrack is simultaneous with Commandant’s voice and the soldiers voices as Agu is seen obeying the command to kill.

‘A sleeping beast’ (39:55 – 43:20) is now awoken; Commandant says that the war “has awaken the sleeping beast, it has awaken the giant’’ as he addresses his battalion while the soundtrack follows in the background. He is sensitizing them that it is time to get ready for war. The soundtrack reminds us of the boys who are marooned on an Island in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Are the children beast before this time or have they become beast suddenly? Commandant does not believe that there is anything as just a boy. A boy is capable of great evils such as killing, stealing and even raping. Now, Agu’s earlier innocence has become mere a sleeping moment for his ‘badness’. In other words, his innocence and goodness are portrayed as a situation that suppresses the beast in him. After witnessing the death of his family he has been made to become vengeful, violent and murderous. After the Commandant has inspired the soldiers, Agu and other children are initiated. The scenes under the background soundtrack “A Sleeping Beast”, however, further portray the evolvement of new beings: beasts that are tested and empowered while the one who shows any sign of fear and weakness or who falls during the running in the initiation process is killed. This means that at initiation there is no mercy because the one being initiated has to survive by making it to the last process and out of all procedures. Even more significant is the fact that, this soundtrack follows these scenes to foreshadow the future of the initiates. After going through initiation process a person becomes a different being who now has to live by the rules and culture of his new cult or group. Agu now belongs to the cult of the Beasts of no Nation. Even more interesting is after the initiation, the boys are lined up and shot at and none of them dies because they have become invincible. Commandant tells them that there are rules for their invincibility to continue to be so. The giants, the beasts are about to begin continuous attacks on peoples of different places.

The soundtrack “No Talking” (48:08 -48:16) shows that the beasts are in action of hunting and killing. Commandant asks the soldiers to set fire on everything in the camp. But it is an irony that the older boys who talks about sharing the ‘ganja’ are the ones lecturing Agu and the boys who are totally silent. It seems that rule number one in ambush, which is ‘no talking’ even if a snake is biting someone, is only for the sake of it. In the circumstance the beasts operate there are exceptions and most times the ones at the upper class in a group enjoy the prerogative of exceptions. They tell the boys that if someone talks during ambush the enemy will come and kill him or her. So Agu has got the message. He rephrases it, “no talking, if a snake is biting you”. How is this soundtrack and this statement significant? Beasts do not talk as talking is to reason while beasts are only expected to attack without reasoning. So, in laying ambush, the soldiers must focus on the mission or task which is to capture or kill the enemy. In this sense, we hear the older boys speak and the soundtrack follows in the background. 

But he is being told to keep quiet now, even if a snake is biting him and he obeys absolutely. Apparently, he has changed and is no longer talkative. He is quiet even before the older boys lecture on silence during ambush. Consequently, the sound track “No Talking” is significant to the narrative as it makes us to see Agu as someone who has discarded his childish talkativeness. He is a boy but he has become a beast who is by experience an adult or a man. The point is that even children cannot afford to be childish during war. The fear of the terror of war is well understood by both children and adult such that without telling the children, they cooperate with the adult and hope for safety. In other words, childishness is an attribute displayable only in good and peaceful times. In times of war, childishness is consciously or unconsciously cast off.

Two background soundtracks, “Helicopters” (59:06 – 60:10) and “Guns Up” (1:23:42-1:25:23) intensify the consciousness of war and the feeling of dread that pervade the setting of the movie. The sounds increase in pitch as a helicopter is seen hovering over the battalion of the Commandant. They look up at the helicopter and laugh to show that they are in the mood of war. They are fighters and not civilians on whom the dread of war and death is might be effective. “Helicopters” renders the terror of deaths as fighters in fighter aircraft can strike from the air; war is something that happens on the ground and in the air. When Commandant says, “guns up”, the soldiers standing on the armour lifts up their guns, ready to shoot at any enemy that crosses their way.

“Better Look me in the Eye” (1:03:44 -1:07:19) is one of the most important aspects of the movie, rendered to serve as a warning to the enemy or to the opponent to be mindful of who he or she or they are dealing with. It also warns someone to expect anything from the dreadful soldier. The track calls for the recognition of the identity or status of the speaker. To see and to know what the speaker truly is and what the speaker is capable of must not be overlooked. Commandant says, “Better look me in the eye mother fucker” and he tells the soldier that they are not going to spare anyone and they must attack fearlessly with the instrumental continuing on high pitch, increasing the tension and the emotion. The effect of this scene and the soundtrack is to trigger pathetic emotions on the viewers as the adult and the little boys display wild and animalistic attributes scattering everywhere, shooting and cutting, killing with guns or cutlasses. They yell and make sounds as beasts whose hearts are full of darkness. The entire atmosphere is tensely terrific as we see the protagonist; Agu also marches on shooting, breaking into houses and killing people. As they march on with terror they leave deaths behind them with the implication that as we look the boys in the eyes we will see through their actions that they are no longer human beings with reasoning capabilities. In this sense, the soundtrack enables us to understand or interpret the subject matter more clearly. They are beasts in their new identity, in their capability and in their actions. The message of the precursor text has been amplified and becomes clearer: No one who carries gun or hold machete during war, standing as a soldier should be discounted as beasts.  In similar way, the soundtrack titled “Are you Watching us?” (1:15:30 – 1:21:20) serves as a rhetorical question to the viewers with intent of probing into their conscience and emotions beyond the surface. In n other words, it serves as an accompaniment to “Better Look me in the Eye” to further sustain the attention of the viewers on the horrible acts or terrific acts being perpetrated by this army of adult and children beasts. On the other hand, it serves as, and is intended to be a question to God. Otherwise, the Commandant of the beasts would not ironically remember God in these set of scenes. He tells the soldiers that they need to pray and they all kneel while he prays:

God let us pray, be guiding us in what we are about to be doing, be helping us, let us fulfill your justice, give us the strength, God we will be sacrificing our blood, that is why we will spare nobody, we will spare nobody. Nothing will hurt us because we are invincible, we are invincible.

However, his prayer is full of contradictions. He prays to God for protection and guidance in what they are about to be doing: killing, which is something they have been doing. He claims also that what they are doing is God’s justice and God should help them to succeed by giving them strength. The blood they will sacrifice should be acknowledged by God because for God’s sake, they will spare nobody. On the contrary he seems also to remind God that he does not need God’s protection saying, “nothing will hurt” them because they are invincible. Now he has also asserted his confidence in the ritual performed at the initiation and so after the prayer, they go on a killing spree, yelling with glee.

Close to the final moments in the film, Agu and other boys enter into a house where they see a mother and her daughter. While in the novel, Striker and Agu dismember the tiny girl who makes no anguish sound; in the movie they kick the girl until she spits blood and dies. Something instructive at this point as Agu is depicted as suffering from the agony of losing his family with the shout, “are you my mother, are you my sister?” implying that he does not care anymore since he has lost his family members. He looks up to God and asks, “God are you watching what we are doing?” (1:20:42). He seems to be losing the beast nature in him once in a while when he remembers his family, especially, his mother and sister. He then shoots the mother to death because he perhaps still have some conscience, suggesting that being a good boy from a good family, he can still be redeemed.

The film is getting to its final events with “A Song for Strika” (1:48:56 – 1:50:45) deployed to make us to sympathise with the dead Strika not as a beast but as a child. He is shot and can no longer move. He is dying. Agu backs him and says, “A song is like my mother sings”; the soundtrack becomes solemn. He calls “Striker” but when he drops him on the ground, there is no answer. He is already dead and Agu weeps. The soundtrack is soulful and slow. In the novel, nobody wait to mourn Strika, whereas in the movie, he is not only wept for, he is honoured with a kind of burial when the soldiers cut and covered him with Plantain leaves. A beast does not deserve that kind of mourning and burying. While the novel makes us to imagine the annihilating effect the of war the movie through the soundtrack makes us to reconsider the fact that though Strika has participated in killing and destroying things he is still a child who is robbed of his innocence by the forceful beast-making circumstance of war. The soldiers, by burying Strika also demonstrate that there is still a human part of them left though the war has consumed much of their humanity and made them beasts. Strika’s method of killing the little girl is unusual and cruel and is a violation of international rules of law. But the effect of the soundtrack and its title is to make us emotional and sympathetic so that we can consider the incident as significant in making us see Strika as a victim of war rather than a war criminal who dismembers a little girl.

The soundtrack titled “Surrender” (1:57:13-2:02:41) affirms the assertion that some beasts of no nation can be redeemed. Rambo tells Commandant that he is going and others say they are going also. Commandant says, “I am your future” and while Rambo points a gun at the Commandant, he cannot shoot because he has no bullet. But Agu has bullet and has now been able to think for himself. He points his gun at him while Commandant asks, “Agu you want to kill commandant?  You want to surrender? You want to surrender, You want to surrender?”  and Agu replies,  “Yes” (1:58:03 ). Agu in the novel says:

I am remembering how much he is hurting me when he is chooking me and I am saying never. Never will I be feeling sorry for him. Never will I be helping him. I am lowering my gun. See! We are going, Rambo is shouting to Commandant. Then he is just taking his gun and shooting him. Only one shot just right in the chest and I am seeing Commandant looking down to his chest with his whole mouth open like he is screaming (123).

In “I Save your Life” it is re-established that Agu is indebted to the Commandant and is expected to remain in servitude to the Commandant with the understanding that his life belongs to the commandant. Unfortunately, Agu is free of that debt and Commandant says, “Just go” and the case is revered. While in the novel Rambo shoots Commandant, in the movie Rambo has no bullet left in his gun and cannot shoot him but Agu who has bullet does not shoot Commandant. There is a reversal of indebtedness concerning what happened earlier Commandant saves Agu’s life and makes him one of his battalion who are beasts. Now, Agu saves the Commandant’s life. He has the power to shoot him. Others tell him to shoot but he does not. He does not necessarily make Commandant into anything different from what the Commandant has been but he is able to free himself from servitude by choosing to “surrender”. He does not need to kill again neither will the Commandant be able to hurt him by having painful gay sex with him again. In surrendering Agu obtains his freedom.

Now they begin to walk and continue to walk. In the novel, they are still wanderers. But there is a wish for change and salvation in the mind of Agu as the wander about. The movie turns this aspect into action part of the narrative rather than mental part. As they continue, they are stopped by soldiers who ask who they are and what they want to do. Rambo replies that they are NDF and want to surrender. (2:00:25). Then they drop their guns, raise their hands, sit on the ground, place their hands on their heads (indicating total surrender) and then they are led to a truck. Although Rambo and all others except one little boy will leave Agu they are all presented with a choice of salvation. The little boy that waits with Agu in the end probably replaces Strika who will likely have chosen to stay with Agu if he is alive. By making the adults and some children to go back to their old way, the movie corroborates the novel’s message that war turns people into beasts and when people become warmongers they can hardly be redeemed. Nevertheless, little children are true to their surrendering because they are not warmongers but are forced to fight in or for a cause they know nothing about and which they are too young to understand.

“Back to the ocean’ (2:08:46) is the last non-diegetic soundtrack used at the end of the movie. Agu says he is some sort of beast but he also has a father, mother, brother and sister, and they love him. Then he stands afar, seeing children playing, he joins them at the river bank. The ocean is symbolic of life. It is a metaphor of life and he is “back to life”. The fact that children are gathered at the ocean, playing portrays children’s innocence and ocean’s cleansing power. Agu is back to humanity. Although he says he has become adult by experience he willing joins the children at the ocean. This implies that he has chosen to go back to being a child who is playful and talkative in his innocence. In the novel, he wishes for salvation. In the movie, he gets salvation and he is “Back to the Ocean”.

Conclusion

Essentially, this paper has examined how the film adaptation by Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of no Nation relate with its source novel of the same title and how Remediation through non-diegetic soundtracks played as background songs, contribute to the critical interpretations of both texts. The analysis revealed that the film adaptations are not deficient facsimile of the source texts but corresponding refashioning which contribute to the interpretation of the narratives of the texts through peculiar audio-visual elements, particularly the extra-diegetic music used as soundtracks in the movie.

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