“Maybe each of us was once a complete whole. A clear picture. A single piece. Then something happened to crack and shatter us. Leaving us disconnected, torn and splintered. Some of us lie in a hundred pieces. Some ten thousand. Some are edged with sharp contrast. Some dim shades of grey. Some find they are missing pieces. Some find they have too many. In any case, we are left shaking our heads. It can’t be done. Then someone comes along who mends a tattered edge or returns a lost piece. The process is tedious, painful, and there are no shortcuts.”
Based on the 2011 romance novel by Charles Martin and directed by Hany Abu-Assad, The Mountain Between Us follows Dr Ben Payne (Idris Elba) and writer Ashley Knox (Kate Winslet) – known in the film as Ben Bass and Alex Martin – who are stranded in the High Uintas Wilderness after their charter plane crashes when the pilot has a heart attack mid-flight. Knowing that nobody is coming to their rescue, the couple must trek through the snow-capped mountains against the harsh conditions to find safety. The ordeal leads them to rely on each other to stay alive and, ultimately, brings them closer together.
The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.
The Mountain Between Us is a lesson in how not to make a film adaptation and in how bad casting and an awful script can absolutely ruin an initially well-written story.
Charles Martin’s The Mountain Between Us is one of my favourite books; a remarkable story that breaks me into pieces with its heartbreaking ending with every read. But you wouldn’t have thought that from this terrible adaptation.
It’s always going to be difficult to enjoy a film that has been adapted from a book that you really enjoyed, but getting to see a story you love brought to life on-screen is usually something to look forward to. Yet I knew from the trailers alone that this film wasn’t going to be any good. It made a tear-jerking romance look like a rom-com, and it was obvious from that start that the casting was well off. However, I didn’t expect it to slaughter the original story quite so much.
The only thing that this film adaptation keeps the same as the book is that it is centred on a man named Ben (although his surname is even changed) and that it is about a plane crash in some mountains. There is very little else that reflects well on the book. Most of the characters names are changed, their traits and personalities are completely different, the way their relationships develops are different, and any emotion that the book has, the film manages to trample all over.
Not only is the film adaptation awfully cast (It was originally meant to star Michael Fassbender and Rosamund Pike in the leads when I first read the book, who much better suited the roles), but the film completely changes the story and its message. Most notably, it completely ruins the twist at the end – that Ben’s wife has been dead all along. Not only that, but the film details her death in just a single sentence, that she died from a brain tumour. In the book, the revelation of Rachel’s death comes as a huge shock, dying alongside her unborn babies as she suffers internal bleeding from a complicated pregnancy with twins, which Ashley (Alex in the film) doesn’t find out about until after they return home.
It’s such a heartbreaking and poignant moment in the book which the film not only ruins but completely lacks any respect for. The book takes the time to explore Ben and Rachel’s past relationship, about how they met and fell in love, which is why you feel so close to the characters in the book. I found so much to relate to but also so much to admire about Ben’s outlook on life, just as Ashley did. Instead, the characters in the film are hostile and arrogant and I find it impossible to believe that two people like this would ever come together.
Would I like this film if I hadn’t read the book? No. This film makes Charles Martin’s novel seem lazily written and completely lacking in emotion when it is anything but. Instead, the story comes across as badly developed, cringy, and just plain ridiculous for the most part. It’s no wonder that it was such a flop because it disregards anything that was good about the story it was dealing with.
As for the casting, Elba may be some people’s dream actor to be stuck in the mountains with, but he’s definitely not who the book describes. There’s not a single thing about his personality that is like the Ben in the book. The whole purpose of the book is that he makes Ashley believe in love because of how he looks at the world and other people. He’s deeply caring and considerate and is the kind of man who you would hope to exist. Elba just shouts a lot and keeps to himself, so it’s any wonder that Winslet falls for him at all. Winslet’s performance is disappointingly unconvincing, too, which was one thing that I thought we could have relied on. Her character is supposed to be younger and carefree, yet she’s bossy and lacks any sense of humour. There’s just nothing to like about either of them.
Differences From The Book:
As I have said above, this film adaptation is nothing like the book, so this is going to be a long list of changes. I will start off with the character differences and then go onto the other changes.
- Alex Martin is called Ashley Knox in the book. It’s understandable that they changed her surname because of the popular Knox scandal, but there was no sense in changing her first name.
- In the book, Ashley is described as having long, slender legs, as comfortable and confident in her own skin, attractive, five foot nine or ten and as having dark hair. She is also a pro at Tae Kwon Do. Her character in the film is nothing like this.
- In the book, Ashley is a columnist for a women’s magazine. She writes about fashion, humour, and relationships. This comes across in her personality as she is much more light-hearted, outgoing, and has a great sense of humour. In the film, Alex works as a journalist and photographer and her character is much more serious, irritably bossy, and her sense of humour is bland.
- In the book, Ashley’s fiancee is called Vince. In the film, he is called Mark. We barely see him in the book, but the film spends a lot more time on his character and on his relationship with Alex.
- Ben’s surname in the film is Bass, but his surname in the book is Payne. It is joked that he is called Dr Payne.
- Ben’s wife, Sarah, is called Rachel in the book. We get to know Rachel really well in the book through flashbacks, but she is rarely mentioned in the film.
- In the book, Ben works with sports medicine and children but, in the film, he is a brain surgeon.
- In the book, Ben is an avid hiker and runner. He and Rachel often climbed mountains together, so he is used to such mountainous landscapes. He also has a backpack full of equipment with him. In the film, there is no mention to any of this and it is obvious that Ben knows nothing about hiking.
- In the book, Ben is a deeply emotional, caring, selfless and understanding character. In the film, he is arrogant, aggressive, hostile, and rude. He swears a lot, too.
- Walter is called Grover in the book. In the film, he tells Ben and Alex that “wasn’t the marrying type”. In the book, Grover absolutely adores his wife. He calls her before he takes off, and tells Ashley all about how their marriage has lasted over 50 years.
- In the film, nobody knows the dog’s name. In the book, he is called Tank by Grover but Ben forgets his name and calls him Napolean. In the film, he is a Golden Lab Retriever but he is a Jack Russel Terrier in the book.
Secondly, the film rarely talks about Ben and Rachel’s marriage and relationship, whilst the book spends a lot of time exploring Ben’s past.
- In the book, Ben talks to Rachel on his recorder every night. He tells her about his current situation, but he also reflects often on his past. We learn about how the couple met at school and how they started running together, how his father was abusive which drove his mother to drink and into rehab, how his father forced him to run twice a day, six days a week, but that he loved to run with Rachel because it was different, about how the couple spent their evenings watching turtles lay their nests on the beach, how Ben bought them a house close to the nesting site, how they became pregnant and their argument over what Rachel should do next. All of this is slowly revealed to lead up to what Ashley thinks is their separation.
- In the book, Ben talks about his wife with Ashley straight away. He only tells her that they are separated, but he is very open about everything else. He tells Ashley about how they pass the recorder back and forth to each other so that they can still communicate during their busy working days. He tells her that he buys her flowers every week and that he built her a greenhouse which is filled with 257 of her favourite flowers, orchids. Rachel often says that she likes the sound of Rachel and that she will have to meet her one day. She even leaves Rachel a few recordings of her own, saying what an amazing man Ben is. Through Ben’s account of his relationship with Rachel, Ashley then reflects back on her own, realising that she didn’t know that a love like that really existed. The film is not nearly as deep as this.
- The biggest change in the film is that Ben tells Alex that his wife died of a brain tumour, that his wife became his patient and that he couldn’t save her. He tells Alex this whilst they are still in the wilderness. In the book, Ashley doesn’t find out that Rachel is dead until they return home and she comes to visit Ben’s house, where Ben shows her the grave of Rachel and the twins. Rachel died because she had a partial abruption during her pregnancy. She is told that an abruption will mean severe internal bleeding and that she has less than 10% chance of surviving, but she chooses to keep her babies instead of terminating the pregnancy because of that small chance. After Ben goes for a run after they argue about what Rachel should do, Rachel and the twins die at home. The film literally just says that Sarah died of a brain tumour. Cancer is most definitely not a pleasant way to die, either, but for the film adaptation to change this heartbreaking background story into such a simple sentence is 90% of the reason why this film doesn’t work.
And now onto the rest of the changes. I will go over a lot of what I have said above as I will go through these changes in chronological order.
- The book begins with a prelude to Ben recording a message to his wife minutes after the crash, detailing to her what has happened. The film is linear and gives no flashforward.
- In the book, Ben buys a pack of batteries at the airport for his recorder. He constantly uses this throughout the book to talk to his wife. He doesn’t buy any batteries in the film and we only see Alex listen to a single message on the recorder, not Ben using it.
- In the book, Ben is making medical notes on his recorder whilst Ashley is typing on her laptop sat on the floor. The two start talking and get to know each other. In the film, Alex overhears Ben needing to get to Denver and tells him that she has a plan. The conversation is quick and formal and we learn nothing about their personalities.
- In the book, the plane is only delayed. They get on the plane as the pilot attempts to take off and Ben sits next to Ashley, but the plane doesn’t make it to the front of the queue in time before the storm hits so they are boarded off. In the film, the plane is cancelled from the very beginning and they are already trying to find alternative flights. Ben and Alex do not meet before and we don’t see them getting to know each other.
- In the book, Ben has a rucksack full of hiking equipment. In the film, Ben has never been hiking so he doesn’t have anything useful on him.
- In the book, Ben finds Grover and asks Ashley if she wants to join them. In the film, Alex sorts the plane out with Walter and invites Ben to join her.
- In the film, Grover is mistaken that Alex and Ben are getting married since they are such closed characters. There is no such confusion in the book as everybody is very open about their relationships.
- In the book, Ben listens to a voicemail from his wife on the plane which she left him moments before she died. Ashley and Grover overhear the message on the plane’s headsets, but they only think that the couple is having a bit of trouble. In the film, Ben uses his phone to play Candy Crush. Nothing else. Alex does listen to the only recording that he has later on in the film, which is similar to the voicemail, but she does this in secret from Ben and doesn’t discuss it with him.
- In the book, Ben gives Grover medical advise because he is coughing a lot and popping antacids. We aren’t told about how the crash happens, but they later say that he managed to land the plane whilst having a heart attack. In the film, Ben doesn’t notice that anything is wrong with Walter. We then see him have a heart attack and the two prepare for a crash landing.
- In the book, the plane has created a snow cocoon which keeps the temperatures warm inside the wreckage. Ben has to dig out shelves in the snow to lie Ashley and his medical equipment in. In the film, the plane is just sitting on the snow and Ben looks after Ashley whilst she is sat in her seat.
- In the book, Ashley is covered in blood and has two swollen eyes. Ben fixes Ashley’s dislocated shoulder whilst she’s still unconscious. Her leg is broken and her thigh is horrendously swollen. He has to stitch up her cuts and set her broken leg, but she wakes up halfway through and then passes out from the pain. He then completely covers her leg in snow to stop the swelling and makes a brace for it. He reapplies the snow often and gives her Advil every few hours and she is often sick from the pain. In the film, Alex only has a black eye and a small cut on her leg. He puts a small handful of snow on the cut and he does make a brace for her leg, but her injuries are no way near as severe.
- In the book, Ben is constantly in doctor mode. He has to take off Ashley’s clothes to check her over and has to help her pee by holding a bottle for her in the right place, but he isn’t embarrassed by having to help her out since he thinks of her as his patient. In the film, the two are not that close, Ben doesn’t seem to care as much, and he only helps her to pull down her trousers when she needs to pee, so the boundaries of their friendship aren’t broken so much.
- In the book, Ashley cannot move at all and must constantly lay down. She spends the whole time on a made-up sledge and under the constant care of Ben. He is a hero by the end of the book for carrying her over 75 miles to safety. In the film, Alex doesn’t keep still for long. She soon takes off on her own and walks most of the way with a slight limp. The journey is, therefore, not quite so heroic or life-threatening.
- In the book, the landscape is filled with trees, whereas there are barely any in the film.
- In the book, both Ben and Ashley love coffee. Surprisingly, Ben has a small amount of coffee in his rucksack so he and Ashley get to enjoy a few cups together. They also share a mix of raw nuts and fruit that Ashley bought at the airport. In the film, Alex makes a joke about going to get them a coffee, but they don’t actually drink any. Alex also saves herself a sweet from her bag which she finds later on.
- In the book, Ben actually considers eating the dog. Because he is so tiny, he doesn’t think that it’s worth it. He actually comments that if he was a Labrador then he would consider it. In the film, no such comments are made, even though the dog is a Labrador.
- In the book, Ashley and Ben laugh a lot more together and make constant jokes about their situation to get through it. Ashley asks Ben to lie to her to make her feel better so, whenever Ben goes outside, Ashley asks him to bring back a pizza or a doughnut and asks him to describe the landscape to her. He tells her that a helicopter is on its way to save them. Ashley even gets Ben to dance for her. They also joke about making a diet book. Neither of their characters are this friendly in the film and their relationship is definitely not that close. In the film, the two constantly argue, instead. Ben tells Alex that he is stuck with her and that he would be better off without her. He even calls her reckless and selfish.
- In the book, Ben uses his GPS gadget to figure out their location before the battery dies. In the film, he has a phone with plenty of battery but no signal, and instead uses Alex’s camera to take photos of his surroundings to see if he can spot anything manmade. He then nearly falls off of the mountain, since he knows nothing about hiking.
- In the book, Ashley is genuinely more upset about missing her wedding. She often asks what day it is and says what she would be doing right now. She doesn’t seem so bothered in the film and she’s certainly not as emotional.
- In the book, Ben makes himself a good pair of snowshoes. He also makes some for the dog. In the film, Ben only makes some snowshoe towards the end of the film and they break instantly.
- In the book, the couple constantly see planes flying overhead but they know that there is no point in trying to get their attention. In the film, the two are excited to see a plane and shoot a flare in its direction.
- In the book, Ben has a compass that Rachel gave to him as a present. Grover also has a crossbow and some fly fishing equipment on the plane. Ben catches some fish with a hand net. They don’t have any of this in the film and they don’t eat any fish.
- In the book, Ben sees the paw prints from the mountain lion close by the crash site so he is on the lookout for it. The lion then attacks them whilst they are sleeping. Later, Ben uses Grover’s body as bait to lure the lion in and then attempts to shoot it with a crossbow, but Ashley shoots it with a flare gun first. In the film, the animal is a Jaguar and it attacks only Alex whilst Ben is out.
- In the film, Ben buries Grover’s body much earlier on. All he says is “God bless”. In the book, Ben gives a much more emotional speech about his broken heart.
- In the book, Ben tells Ashley that he has two children – Michael and Hannah – but that he doesn’t see them much. He also tells her quite early on that he and Rachel have separated. Ashley listens to his recordings and leaves her own message for Rachel. In the film, Ben barely mentions his wife and tells Alex that he has no kids. Again, there are no recordings made, and we learn nothing about his relationship with Rachel.
- In the book, Ben has to pull Alex on a sledge with a harness. They end up back at the crash site after one day of hiking. In the film, Alex goes off on her own, able to walk, and Ben has to follow her. He then says that there is no going back.
- In the book, Ben gets so hot and sweaty pulling the sledge that he has to take off his shirt to dry every time that they stop, so he often sleeps in just his boxers. He has lost so much weight that they are hanging off him. In the film, they are constantly cold and fully dressed, and they look like they’re in good condition and don’t appear to lose any weight.
- In the film, Ben is quite straightforward in saying that he thinks that they are going to die. In the book, he tries to be optimistic about everything and tells Ashley that he is taking it one step at a time.
- In the book, Ben tells Ashley that she deserves to be with someone that makes her light up and he tells her that she is remarkable. She asks him if he has been tempted by her after seeing her in her underwear so often. She also often hints that Vince isn’t the right man for her. Their relationship is nothing like this in the film and Alex barely shares anything with him. Ben certainly doesn’t compliment her in any way.
- In the film, the two stop in a cave one night. There is no cave in the book.
- In the book, they see the cabin from a distance and have to decide whether to redirect their route or not. Ben then falls into some deep snow and knocks Ashley off of her sledge. Her leg rebreaks and their clothes are soaking wet so they have to go to the cabin. Once they are there, they walk around the frozen lake. In the film, they only see the cabin when it is right in front of them and Alex falls into the frozen lake. Ben then gives her some medicine for a snake bite.
- In the book, there are seven cabins as it is a Scouts campsite. They stay in a room that is as big as a basketball court, in front of a large fire, and they use mattresses from the bedrooms on the floor. They drink decaf tea and eat vegetable soup, they play monopoly and put together a puzzle, and they both have a bath or two. In the film, the cabin is only a small hut and there is no bath.
- In the book, they realise that their surroundings is called Ashley National Park. Ashley is called Alex in the film so this wouldn’t make sense.
- In the book, Ben hunts a moose and its calf. A pack of wolves try to steal his hunt and he gets a cut above his eye. He’s sad that he took the calf away from its mother (relating to his own circumstances). None of this happens in the film.
- In the film, Alex listens to the recorded message from Sarah without Ben’s permission. Ben then tells Alex about their separation. In the book, Ben talks constantly about Rachel and Ashley knows early on that Ben and Rachel have separated. Ashley then admits to eavesdropping on Ben making his recordings to Rachel.
- In the film, Ben and Alex then have sex. In the book, Ben tells Ashley that he has thought about it, but that his heart is still with Rachel. He even jokes that in a film they would fall in love and have sex, but he wants to be able to look Vince in the eye once he gets Ashley to safety.
- It is here, in the film, that Ben tells Alex that his wife is dead. Ashley doesn’t find this out until the very end of the book when she visits Ben at their home.
- In the book, once they leave the cabin, Ben sees a road sign telling them where they are and how many miles they have to walk to safety. They follow a road and find an emergency warming hut and a ranger’s cabin on their descent to keep them warm for a few nights. Their journey happens much quicker in the film so we don’t see any of this.
- In the film, Ben and Alex nearly give up. There is no chance of Ben giving up in the book.
- In the film, Ben then gets caught in a bear trap so Alex has to go and find help without him. In the book, they fall down a hill in an avalanche. Ben gets buried in snow so Ashley has to get off the sledge to dig him out, but she rebreaks her leg and the bone pierces the skin. Ben then has to go off on his own to find safety and he runs the whole way. He hits “the wall”, but a vision of Rachel gets him to keep on going.
- We don’t see any of the rescue in the film but, in the book, they send snowmobiles and a helicopter to rescue Ashley. The film just skips forward.
- In the book, there is a crowd of camera crews waiting to talk to Ben and Ashley about their journey, although they both avoid them. There isn’t any of this in the film.
- In the book, Ben watches Ashley’s surgery and makes sure that she is under good care. He gets a nurse to shave her legs, gets somebody to give her a manicure, and he sends some fast food up to her room. Because they haven’t had sex, his meeting with Vince isn’t awkward. In the film, Ben isn’t as considerate and his meeting with Mark is a mumbling mess since he’s just slept with his fiancee.
- In the film, Ben keeps the dog but, in the book, he goes to visit Grover’s wife and gives her the dog back.
- In the book, Ashley writes a story about their journey. In the film, Alex is asked to by her editor but she only says that she will think about it.
- In the film, we see more of Ashley’s life back at home with Mark. In the book, the focus is on Ben, as we see him buy a flower for his wife and go to see her at her house. He finds another message on his recorder that Ashley has left for Rachel saying what an amazing man her husband is and that she should forgive whatever he has done wrong.
- In the book, Ashley invites Ben and Rachel to her wedding. She buys him a climbing watch and Ben buys her a recorder, leaving her a message saying that he has left Rachel and hinting that he loves her. In the film, Ben avoids Alex’s calls because he thinks she is married, so she sends Ben some of the photos that she took on their journey.
- In the film, the two meet at a cafe and run into each other’s arms (Yuk!). In the book, Ashley comes to visit Ben at his house where she asks to meet Rachel. This is when he shows her their graves.
If you enjoy reading, then please forget about this film and give the book a read. I would hate to think that people are going to avoid this phenomenal book because of this awful adaptation, so give it a chance. You won’t even recognise the story!
Now, I’m off to reread my favourite book again and erase this film from my memory.