Two of the most critically acclaimed war films, from very different places and periods, Westfront 1918 (G.W. Pabst, 1930) and The Thin Red Line (Terence Malick, 1998), are both adapted from important literary works. War literature adapted for the screen represents a special case of adaptation, as the film has to speak not only to the usual fan-community public sphere for literary works, but also to the broader collective memory that such representations invoke. In fact, one of key differences in the adaptation of combat films intersects this uniquely collective character of war literature: such adaptations consistently favor a collective protagonist in their narratives. Such collective protagonists suggest one of the reasons, of all screen adaptations, war adaptations are particularly provocative. With their consistently collective protagonists, they can (narratively speaking) represent violence and even death in a different mode than most adaptations.
This violent and collective-memory aspect of war adaptations intersects another of the combat film’s unusual aspects, namely, its work with what has been called cinematic embodiment and affect, as described by Vivian Sobchack as well as in the recent emotion-affective turn of film theory in works like Torben Grodal or Carl Plantinga. These theories suggest unique aspects of cinema that operate with particular effectiveness and ferocity in combat films – but these theories themselves can be illuminated by the way that these war-adaptations negotiate the body within the scales of the collective mentioned above. The notion of scales helps comprehend how war films work with bodily affect but also refashion it in the collective mentioned above. By examining such war-literature adaptations, the presentation will aim to demonstrate how theories of emotion-affect can help understand screen adaptation in new ways while also demonstrating how such adaptations can elucidate these theories, rendering the theories and adaptations mutually illuminating.