Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” takes place in an dystopian future in which, ironically, the government has implemented handicaps in an attempt to ensure that everyone is equal in skill, beauty, and opportunity. 2081, directed by Chandler Tuttle portrays a similar environment in with slight adaptations. Although both the original short story and the film adaptation give viewers and interesting lens to view the story from, the Kurt Vonnegut’s use of suspended moments and his ability to ‘show, not tell’ in his writing makes reading the story a much more effective medium for telling the “Harrison Bergeron” narrative.
One of the most impactful moments within “Harrison Bergeron” occurs during the rising action when Harrison Bergeron and his ‘empress’ dance together. During this scene, Vonnegut uses figurative language to create an extended moment and generate a feeling of suspense. When describing Harrison and the ballerina, Vonnegut says that they “neutralized gravity with love and pure will,”. The use of such graceful and serene figurative language makes the tone of the story seem eerily calm; a perfect, almost romantic moment frozen in time. This expanded moment draws the reader into a false sense of security right before a shocking incident, Harrison and the ballerina getting shot, jolts the story back up to tempo. In the story, the only thing that is described during this moment is the moment shared between Harrison Bergeron and the ballerina, whereas in the movie, we can see Diana Moon and many armed men entering the theatre as Harrison and the ballerina dance. This spoils any feeling of suspense and destroys the impact of the juxtaposition of such a calm moment and the suddenness of Diana Moon shooting bother Harrison and his empress.
Another reason that the book is more impactful than the movie is the implied past. In the book, George tells Hazel that he won’t take off his physical handicap because “if [he tried to get away with it, […] then other people’d get away with it – and pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages” whereas in the movie George’s reason is that if he took off the lead beads he’d want to keep them off, and that wouldn’t do anyone any good. The implication that the reason for the government controlling everyone is social uprising or revolution that caused chaos adds depth to the plot and allows the reader to make inferences about this seemingly post-apocalyptic future. This is a quintessential example of ‘showing not telling’ that adds depth to a story. In the movie, there is less room to make inferences, as there is no information given about why everyone has mental and physical handicaps. This makes the messages portrayed in the film less effective.
Through his incredibly thought-provoking short story, “Harrison Bergeron”, Kurt Vonnegut uses suspended moments and the art of ‘showing not telling’ to portray a deep, serious theme in a simple plot with many dark undertones. Although the film, 2081, directed by Chandler Tuttle, somewhat replicates this tone, the short story is a much more effective medium for telling the story. That being said, both the film and the short story were very enjoyable and offered interesting perspectives on an intriguing concept.