Movie Wednesday: A Series of Unfortunate Events
By Brave Writer Alum Amy Frantz
Don’t look! Stop reading now. Unless you are a strange person and enjoy stories about misfortune and mishaps befalling young people, then I suppose you may continue.
Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire suddenly find themselves orphaned when their parents die in a suspicious fire. They are sent to live with their “closest” relative Count Olaf, whose uninviting behavior is matched only by his dilapidated home and unreasonable list of chores he expects the children to perform. It soon becomes clear that Olaf’s intentions towards the children are sinister indeed–a phrase which here means “not with the Baudelaires’ best interests at heart”–in fact he just wants their fortune and will stop at nothing to get it. The children’s pleas for help are not taken seriously by the adults who surround them, leaving them to their own resourcefulness to escape the dreadful Olaf.
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The Bad Beginning, the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, was first published in 1999 by author Daniel Handler under the pseudonym—a word which here means “a fictitious name used by an author”—Lemony Snicket. In the books, Snicket is actually the fictional narrator of the Baudelaire children’s misfortunes and constantly advises the reader to stop reading (which really, you should do. Turn away now before it’s too late).
The books use a Gothic tone contrasted with exaggeratedly absurd events, while Snicket as the narrator maintains that his story is as true as it is unpleasant, bringing an element of whimsy to the otherwise bleak story.
The Bad Beginning was recently covered in the Arrow Book Club. If your kids wish to know more about the “misfortune, misery, and despair” of the Baudelaire orphans, for reasons which we here cannot fathom, then take this opportunity to deep dive into the filmed adaptations. Watch one or both and compare!
- When the Baudelaires learn of their parents’ death, Snicket says that if you haven’t experienced what the children are experiencing, then you cannot imagine how they feel. Do you think this is true? Explain why or why not.
- In the 2004 film, the events of the first book, The Bad Beginning, are split up and bookend the film instead of being kept together the way they are in the novel. How do you think this alters the characters’ journeys in the story?
- The Netflix series adds in several scenes that aren’t in the books. Particularly Mr. Poe’s wife being more concerned with getting good headlines for the newspaper than actually caring about the newly orphaned children. How do you feel about these additions and what do you think they might be saying about society?
- The film has an uplifting ending in stark contrast with the Netflix series, which maintains the ongoing nature of the Baudelaires’ unhappiness. Which way do you prefer the story to be told and why?
- Which portrayal of Count Olaf do you find the most effective, Jim Carrey’s slapstick humor of the film or Neil Patrick Harris’ more subdued and sinister performance in the Netflix series? Explain your answer.
Learning language arts with the Bad Beginning Arrow!
The Arrow is the monthly digital product that features copywork and dictation passages from a specific read aloud novel (you purchase or obtain the novels yourself). It’s geared toward children ages 8-11 and is an indispensable tool for parents who want to teach language arts in a natural, literature-bathed context.