Watch a Sweet Film Adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Story, “Long Walk to Forever”

Shame, shame to have lived scenes from a women’s mag­a­zine. —Kurt Von­negut

In his intro­duc­tion to Wel­come to the Mon­key House, a col­lec­tion of his short fic­tion pub­lished in 1968, Kurt Von­negut shows no com­punc­tion about throw­ing its most main­stream entry under the bus:

In hon­or of the mar­riage that worked I include in this col­lec­tion a sick­en­ing­ly slick love sto­ry from The Ladies Home Jour­nal, God help us, enti­tled by them “Long Walk to For­ev­er.” The title I gave it, I think, was “Hell to Get Along With.”

The sim­ple tale, pub­lished, as not­ed, by Ladies Home Jour­nal in 1960, bears a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties to events of Vonnegut’s own life. After WWII, hav­ing sur­vived the bomb­ing of Dres­den as a POW, he made his way back to Indi­anapo­lis, and invit­ed Jane Cox, the friend he’d known since kinder­garten, who was engaged to anoth­er man, to take a walk, dur­ing which he sug­gest­ed she should mar­ry him instead.

Direc­tor Jes­si­ca Hes­ter’s recent, Kurt Von­negut Trust-sanc­tioned adap­ta­tion, above, plays it pret­ty straight, as do sev­er­al oth­er unau­tho­rized ver­sions lurk­ing on the Inter­net.

She ups Newt’s rank to cor­po­ral from pri­vate, and replaces the glossy bridal mag­a­zine Cather­ine is thumb­ing through when Newt knocks with a coterie of atten­tive brides­maids and lit­tle girls, appar­ent­ly get­ting a jump on their nup­tial fuss­ing.

The mag­a­zine’s omis­sion is unfor­tu­nate.

In the sto­ry, Newt asks to see “the pret­ty book,” forc­ing Cather­ine to bring up the impend­ing wed­ding. Its phys­i­cal real­i­ty then offers Newt a handy emo­tion­al refuge, from whence he can crack wise about rosy brides while pre­tend­ing to read an ad for flat­ware.

With­out that prop, he’s preter­nat­u­ral­ly aware of the names of sil­ver pat­terns.

And as an Indi­anapo­lis native who went to school in the orchard where the sto­ry is set, and who can con­firm that it’s in earshot of the bells from the Indi­ana School for the Blind, I found it jar­ring to see the action trans­posed to New York’s Westch­ester Coun­ty. (For those keep­ing score, it was shot on loca­tion in Cro­ton State Park and the Rock­e­feller State Park).

(Break­ing Away’s rock quar­ry aside, the Hoosier State just doesn’t have those sorts of high-up water views.)

Hes­ter hon­ors Vonnegut’s dia­loguenear­ly every­thing that comes out of the char­ac­ters’ mouths orig­i­nat­ed on the page, while pro­vid­ing a young female director’s spin on this mate­r­i­al, half a cen­tu­ry removed from its pub­li­ca­tion.

As she describes it on the sto­ry­telling plat­form Fem­i­nist Wednes­day, the film gen­tly sat­i­rizes the insti­tu­tion of mat­ri­mo­ny and the impor­tance placed upon it. It is also, she says:

…a sto­ry about courage, as the female has to face her­self, her ideas, and her val­ues… Catherine’s jour­ney is so raw, ter­ri­fy­ing in the most hon­est way, and heart­felt yet extreme­ly fun­ny because it is so relat­able. 

Some­thing tells me the author would­n’t have put it that way … his Mon­key House intro, maybe.

But his admi­ra­tion for his less-than-tra­di­tion­al muse, avid read­er and writer Jane Cox, from whom he split after 26 years of mar­riage, was immense.

Gin­ger Strand’s pro­file in The New York­er quotes the house­hold con­sti­tu­tion Cox draft­ed after their 1945 mar­riage:

We can­not and will not live in and be hogtied by a soci­ety which not only has not faith in the things we have faith in, but which reviles and damns that faith with prac­ti­cal­ly every breath it draws.

Hester’s crowd-fund­ed film, which the Kurt Von­negut Muse­um and Library includ­ed as part of a COVID-19 cri­sis Vir­tu­al Von­negut Fun Pack(“Have a box of Kleenex at the ready!”)was shot in 2014.

Had pro­duc­tion been delayed by a few years, one won­ders if the film­mak­ers would have come under  intense pres­sure to frame Newt’s refusal to take Catherine’s rejec­tions at face val­ue, his insis­tence that she con­tin­ue the walk, and that unvet­ted kiss as some­thing per­ni­cious and inten­tion­al.

If so, we’re glad the film made it into the can when it did.

And we con­fess, we don’t real­ly share Vonnegut’s avowed dis­taste for the sto­ry, though New York Times crit­ic Mitchel Lev­i­tas did, in an oth­er­wise favor­able review of Wel­come to the Mon­key House:

This Von­negut is obvi­ous­ly a lov­able fel­low. More­over, he’s right about the sto­ry, which is indeed a sick­en­ing and slick lit­tle noth­ing about a sol­dier who goes A.W.O.L. in order—How to say it?—to sweep his girl from the steps of the altar into his strong and lov­ing arms.

Here’s to future adap­ta­tions of this Ladies Home Jour­nal-approved sto­ry by one of our favorite authors. May they cap­ture some­thing of his tart­ness, and for­go a sen­ti­men­tal sound­track in favor of a chick­adee whose cameo appear­ance after the School for the Blind’s bells pre­fig­ures Slaughterhouse-Five’s famous “Poo-tee-weet?”

“*chick-a-dee-dee-dee*,” went a chick­adee.

This adap­ta­tion of  Von­negut’s “Long Walk to For­ev­er” will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Kurt Von­negut Offers 8 Tips on How to Write Good Short Sto­ries (and Amus­ing­ly Graphs the Shapes Those Sto­ries Can Take)

The Graph­ic Nov­el Adap­ta­tion of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaugh­ter­house-Five, Com­ing Out This Year

A New Kurt Von­negut Muse­um Opens in Indi­anapo­lis … Right in Time for Banned Books Week

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain is on COVID-19 hia­tus. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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