The short story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway is a famous and popular work known for its complex and inimitable style. In this three-page short story, Hemingway abandons the established criteria and conventions of storytelling and takes a risk by ignoring elements that people typically associate with short stories. For example, prior to Hemingway, short stories always defined a clear narrative that went from point A to point B, had a beginning, middle, and end, and often revolved around a fixed and specific subject. These stories were often designed to include an unexpected twist or a message, or in cases where there was no message, they took on a symbolic meaning. Hemingway discards all of these issues in this story and as a result, the character we think the story is about, the old man, is eliminated at a time when we least expect it. The writer is indifferent to him as he easily steps out of the frame and instead focuses on a character that we did not initially think was significant, one of the two bartenders. The story ends surprisingly, without intentionally bringing about a specific change in meaning.
In the short film of the same name directed by Khristofor Yatsynov, we are faced with an exciting adaptation of Hemingway's story. Many literature and cinema enthusiasts will enjoy watching this adaptation, and the film can be the basis for many discussions on adapting literature into cinema. As we mentioned, Hemingway tells the story in three pages and begins it with the conversations of two waiters (both male) about an old man who sits in the bar until late at night and drinks. One of the waiters, who is in a hurry to go to his lover's house, tells the old man that it is late and he should stop drinking, but the old man still wants to sit there alone and drink. From the waiters' conversation, we understand that the old man wanted to kill himself a week ago. The impatient waiter finally kicks the old man out of the bar, and the waiters close the bar and say goodnight to each other. The story eliminates the old man just a few moments before this scene and also eliminates the impatient waiter, leaving only one waiter. Hemingway follows this waiter. The man walks on the streets, goes to a bar, drinks something, and the story ends. In the film directed by Khristofor Yatsynov, we face a precise adaptation that even some dialogues like "He was in despair" are repeated verbatim. However, the filmmaker has made very subtle and clever changes to some dialogues to make this adaptation closer to his goal. These minor changes have made all three characters in this story more vivid and played a more important role in advancing the story. As much as we are faced with a kind of passivity and indifference in Hemingway's story, in the film, the characters have clear motivations and identities. In the film, the characters have identities.
The old man in the film appears more alive than in Hemingway's story, without any additional dialogue beyond the original story. This is not only because the story creates a mental character and we have a tangible character in the film, but also because the appearance of the old man, his play with his eyes, his calmness and dignity, his physical movements, and everything we see of his reactions make him a believable and earthly person, but separate from his surroundings. The old man is not just motivated by getting drunk, it seems that being in that calm and quiet place is what motivates him to continue ordering drinks. In the story, we read that the old man's ears are deaf, and that's why he likes late nights, but this is not mentioned in the film. Instead, by emphasizing the old man's gaze and the actor's performance, we understand that he is satisfied with being in that place. Especially considering the end of the film and the presence of the waiter in another bar, which implicitly tells us why the older waiter identifies with the old man, we realize that it is not just drinking that makes the old man want to stay in that bar until late at night. Because as the young waiter said, he can buy a bottle and take it home and drink as much as he wants. It is being present in that Well-Lighted place that makes the old man sit there for hours and drink.
The second reason that the movie emphasizes and portrays well through the verbal interactions of the two waiters and the customers is that the old man, like one of those waiters, has no home, life, spouse, or companion waiting for him anywhere in the city. There is nowhere to go and rushing to get to an empty house is of no use. At the end of the movie, we see the waiter at his home who should naturally go to sleep after a long day's work, but he is still sitting awake with a drink in his hand. The film shows the symmetry and similarity between the waiter and the old man to the audience without emphasizing it too much, and we understand how the past and future of these two characters are similar. Hemingway's story refers to the theme of insomnia, but in the film, this similarity is deeper and more extensive than insomnia and relates to various issues such as human loneliness. The young waiter is impatient to go home because someone is waiting for him. A woman is waiting for him at home, and he wants to get rid of the old man as soon as possible to go home and relax for a bit. But for the second waiter, getting home early is pointless because there is no peace at home either. Because even at home, apart from insomnia, there is this monster of loneliness waiting for him, and he prefers to stay away from home as much as possible and stay in the bar. The movie introduces us to the living space of its characters beautifully by creating a brilliant and excellent environment. In that bar, in that brightly lit environment, the old man and the second waiter feel calm. It's like a home for them. But for the young waiter who impatiently wants to go home, the bar, the old man, and the insistence on drinking more are just a waste of time. The film refers to the difference between the two waiters. One has a companion, a job, and a home, and the other only has a job. When someone only has a job in life, it is natural that that job becomes everything for them. The end of the movie is different from Hemingway's story. In the story, the waiter goes to a bar, drinks something, and thinks about going home and getting to sleep by first light of dawn. In the film, the waiter goes to the bar, drinks something, then goes home and sits in a room while still wearing his outdoor clothes and gets lost in his thoughts. For Khristofor Yatsynov, the director, this waiter will turn into someone like that old man in the future.
One of the strengths of the film is its set design and scenes. From the very first shots, especially the introduction of the old man, we see the attention to detail and the intricacy of the design, with details that are ultimately simple and elegant. In fact, it can be said that it is always the environment that captures the audience’s attention towards the subjects. How the background of events has been set and how the space has been created is of great importance. In this movie, the space is created so accurately that we easily believe it and become absorbed in the story. Given the type of women's clothing at the end of the movie, we can guess that the story is happening in the early 20th century. The filmmaker creates this space well. The streets, alleys, shops, chairs, and everything are designed to take us to a different space from today's life. A space that can symbolically highlight loneliness and death, made out of literature, as of ancient stories and tales. The risk of this filmmaker is that he chooses a story that is highly resistant to visualization. A story that not everyone goes after because it has little visual material and mostly relies on mentality. Hemingway changes the environment and location with this reliance on mentality and does not even name his waiters and characters to easily eliminate the distance between them. The filmmaker has succeeded in creating memorable characters of the old man and waiters while maintaining their similarities. Different though similar. The similarity between the two waiters is in their type of work. Both are waiters who are companion in conversation and co-workers. But their difference is that one has a home and family, and the other is alone. One is attached to his job, and work is everything for him, while the other wants to leave as soon as possible and go home. We have already mentioned the similarities between the waiter and the old man. With admirable sophistication, the filmmaker not only makes a very successful adaptation of this inexplicable story but also gives the characters a fresh color and identity, and it can be said that it goes ahead of Hemingway's story. This is the outstanding strength of the movie; moving forward and advancing beyond Hemingway's story, and finding an independent identity from that story.
The movie "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is a very enjoyable and captivating work, with controlled and carefully crafted performances that have been thoughtfully considered in every look and movement. It features eye-catching images and gentle music that perfectly describe the atmosphere and complement it.