Adapting a Literary Nation to Film: National Identity, Neoromanticism and the Anxiety of Influence
ABSTRACT: This essay addresses the interrelations of film and literature in the Icelandic context by focusing primarily on two case studies. The first regards an early twentieth-century group of Neoromantic writers, commonly known as the Varangians, whose plays and novels provided the narrative material for the first fiction features set in Iceland. The second addresses the conspicuous lack of adaptations made from either the medieval sagas or the work of Iceland’s most celebrated novelist, Halldór Laxness. It is argued that this lack stems from the high regard in which literature, and these works in particular, is held in Iceland—suggestive of a certain anxiety in tackling its literary heritage. Ultimately, the two case studies point towards the strong ties between literature and national identity. As a result Icelandic cinema has swayed aberrantly from an overt reliance on literature to attempts at distancing itself from it. According to the essay, both strategies are characteristic of filmmaking in a nation whose national identity privileges language and literature.