The Count of Monte Cristo is one of those stories I absolutely love to revisit.  It’s an intimidating book, 2.5″ thick, over 1200 pages in the Penguin Classics paperback edition.  I shudder to imagine how thick and heavy a hardcover edition would be.

Strangely, I bought my first copy (which is falling apart from my having read it so much) on a whim, with a couple other books I’d “always intended to read,” shortly before my suicide attempt.  I didn’t read it before then.  I didn’t read it for years after that, actually; it sat on my shelf unopened and moved with me at least twice before I finally sat down and read it.

The combination of the intense emotions and the meticulous, ingenious revenge, plus secret & mistaken identities, humor, love, and of course unimaginable wealth, makes it one of my all-time favorite novels.  I am determined to develop a screenplay for a 100% true-to-the-book miniseries, something I don’t believe yet exists in the world.  The 2002 Hollywood movie with Guy Pearce and Jim Caviezel, known to me as “that guy who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ,” barely has a thing in common with the book.  Don’t get me wrong, it entertains me immensely and I have a bit of a fangirl crush on Jim Caviezel’s Monte Cristo, BUT it is certainly not a good representation of the novel.  Even the guy who wrote the screenplay admits it.  In the special features he said basically that he couldn’t follow the book precisely because he was writing a script for a Hollywood movie, which has time limitations and audiences have certain expectations.  I absolutely agree with him.  There’s no way the whole story, with its enormous cast and complicated plot, could be captured in a 2-hour feature.

The 1934 film starring Robert Donat has similar problems, and has a similarly cheezy ending.  They did preserve more of the details of the plot-points they kept, but still, you can only do so much in 90 minutes.

There’s a made-for-TV movie from the 70s starring Richard Chamberlain (another fangirl crush here, I forget which movie first brought him to my attention) and Tony Curtis which has the horrible, low-budget sets, costumes and staging of a made-for-TV movie from the 70s BUT it’s got Richard Chamberlain so I feel gentler towards it than I might otherwise.  And again, while it contains some elements the others didn’t, it is still only feature-length.

In 1998 a miniseries came out of France, starring one of their favorites, big barrel-chested Gerard Depardieu, as the Count.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s just about perfect for Cyrano de Bergerac, but throughout the book Edmond Dantes and the Count are described as attractive.  And Gerard Depardieu, well, ew.  But I watched it anyway because I figured 1) it’s a serial, so they’ll include more of the story, and 2) it’s French, and if anyone gets it right it should be the French, since that’s where the story came from in the first place.  It does something interesting, something none of the aforementioned versions do: it casts a “young” Dantes (Depardieu’s son, incidentally) and then Depardieu pere emerges as Dantes either after the escape from prison or maybe when the Count first appears (it’s been a while since I saw it).  As I recall, in 400 minutes it does indeed cover a lot more of the novel, but I can’t get over the fact that he hooks back up with Mercedes at the end.  I mean come on, France!  I just added it to my Netflix queue so I can give it another shot — now that I am about as familiar with the story as anyone reasonably could be, maybe I can view it a bit more impartially.  I still feel (rather strongly) that Depardieu was just plain bad casting.

There are others, of course (don’t get me started on the anime series that came out a few years ago…. stylistically intriguing, but it got real weird real fast, and apparently kills off Dantes at some point).  But the point is that none of them do adequate justice to this masterpiece.

The real reason I even starting writing about this is that I’ve been thinking about the one part of the book I’ve never quite “gotten.”  The very last bit, where Monte Cristo makes Maximilien wait 1 month before finally revealing that Valentine isn’t dead after all.  I always think, c’mon, Dantes, really?  Was that really necessary?  But as I’m reading it through this time, it’s coming together more for me.  Maybe it’s in part because this Penguin Classics version is a slightly different translation — a more literal translation, I find.  The thing that’s so interesting about Dantes is that, because he has this enormous wealth and has amassed more information about everything there is to be known, he has a pretty huge ego by the end.  But in addition to that, he sincerely believes that he is an agent of Providence, that his actions of vengeance are the will of God.  I struggle with this because I think “damn, he’s so cool except for the whole belief in God thing” (I’m an atheist, right).  I think, though, that what happens at the end is this:  he believes “killing” Valentine is necessary because 1) his revenge on Villefort wouldn’t be complete unless Valentine dies and 2) Mme de Villefort wouldn’t stop trying to kill Valentine unless she believed Valentine were dead.  That much makes sense.  But why make Maximilien wait a whole month?  Especially as Dantes obviously explained at least some of his plan to Noirtier during the vigil over Valentine’s “corpse.”

My conclusion, then, is that Dantes really thinks he’s doing Maximilien a favor by making him suffer the 1 month of grief.  This action falls outside the range of his vengeance, so in this action he is no longer acting as an agent of Providence.  He’s acting as a man who suffered greatly in his youth but has acquired so much knowledge and money that he believes he knows better than anyone else.  And in this case, he believes that Maximilien will be happier in the long run if he feels the intense grief of the loss of his beloved before getting her back.  To me, it just seems like a pretty dick move.  And slightly insane.  I do think Dantes emerges at the end of the novel, having completed his revenge on all of his enemies, a little worse for wear emotionally, and it’s probably a good thing for everyone that he disappears into the sunrise with no apparent intention of returning.  How much of this I want to come across in my miniseries is still sort of up in the air.  I don’t want him to seem completely unhinged, but I think it’s important to show that he’s done some damage to himself in building up this “Angel of Vengeance so I know better than you” ego thing.  He’s our hero, but he’s still a man.