Posted in Book Review, Movies

Owen Meany and Simon Birch

Possibly I was a bit hasty in my post about A Prayer for Owen Meany. I watched the movie version, which is entitled Simon Burch, during the snow storm this week and developed a new appreciation for the novel. I also realized I had missed the most obvious part of the book; Owen is the Jesus figure. The movie makes it visually clear, but there are numerous blatant clues in the book.

  1. Owen prophesies his own death.
  2. He dies while saving others.
  3. He continues to speak to John after his death (a form of resurrection).
  4. His parents claim he was born of a virgin.
  5. He had complete faith in God.

It does fall apart a bit when you consider how many transgressions he had while alive, but no one can actually BE Jesus.


Now that I’ve made that discovery, it’s time to talk about the movie separate from the book. Simon Birch, as a stand alone movie, is a feel-good film about a young boy and his best friend. It might bring tears to your eyes and it will definitely make you laugh. There are a few sexual references, but nothing too harmful considering the characters are young boys. It’s the kind of movie I would think could spark beneficial conversation about how we should treat people who are different than ourselves. The film also points toward the idea that God has a specific purpose for each of us. That’s very true.

From a technical point of view, the casting supports the characters created by the film, and the filming sets the scenes very well. I was amazed that the film was even able to incorporate visually what I believe is a key symbol in the book–the dollmaker’s dummy, sans iconic red dress–even though the film script does not. All in all, the film does an adequate job of reimagining the story while maintaining some key points of the novel. One point where I was definitely disappointed was in the casting of Owen character, renamed Simon. The movie makes him out to have a physical disability, due to the casting, but in the book, Owen is fully capable; he is simply short and has an odd voice. They do discover in the book the probable medical reason for Owen’s voice, but I don’t think the movie even does the voice justice. The only point when the voice even begins to resemble the voice I hear represented by the novel is when Simon is standing on the bridge saying “I’m sorry.” It’s a small flaw in the film script, but it’s the one that bothered me the most.

owen meany

The film does not disappoint me as an image of a novel because the credits are very clear that this film is only “suggested by” the novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany. From what I can dig up online, John Irving either did not feel that the book could be made into a film properly or that the film was not made properly. Either way, the film slightly changes all of the names, shortens the storyline, creates new scenes, and alters the ending. It doesn’t bother me though because I’m with Irving: the book cannot be made into a movie without being a disappointment. The book is intricate and fascinating, and the more research I do online, the more I want to re-read the book. So much detail is woven into the 600 pages. For example, I was reading online about one possible theme being that sports are idealized too much in America. The argument makes sense from what I remember of the novel, but I definitely did not catch that when I was reading. So, long story short, you may be hearing more about Owen Meany. For now, I’ll tease you with the opening line, which Irving thinks may be his best. The entire story really is there.

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.




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