Apt Pupil (Bryan Singer, 1998, USA/France/Canada)

Director Bryan Singer decided to follow up his breakout 1995 smash hit The Usual Suspects with an adaptation of a lesser-known Stephen King novella about a relationship between a Nazi-in-hiding and a young man. While in retrospect Singer's choice of the material makes sense, it wasn't the most obvious choice for one of Hollywood's hottest young directors at the time. The adaptation history of Apt Pupil itself is a tortured one, with multiple false starts (almost half of an earlier adaptation was filmed in the late 1980s until the production was dropped). Surely one of Stephen King's darkest works, Apt Pupil was most likely not the easiest film to market.

The Singer adaptation is somewhat true to King's text, although it makes considerable changes toward the ending, and also tones down many of the more gruesome and disturbing aspects of the novella. The young man Todd Bowden, here played by Brad Renfro, is a single age throughout the film, whereas in the novella his age spans several years. Renfro, who had a quite troubled life, was the subject of controversy surrounding activities on the set of Apt Pupil. Unsurprisingly given Singer's involvement, multiple scandals broke out throughout the shooting that overshadowed the film.

While the homoerotic aspect is present to some degree in King's novella, in Singer's film adaptation it is amped up to eleven. Bowden's fetishization of the Nazi Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen) is very apparent. However, at the end of the film, many of the subjects it attempts to deal with - particularly Nazism - are not interrogated in any meaningful way and are only dealt with on a metaphorical level. This leaves the viewer wanting something more complex ultimately, and the film in its final presentation feels something more akin to a TV movie than a complex feature film.



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