Home Daniel Keyes "Flowers for Algernon"
(the Short Story)
Flowers for Algernon
(the Novel)
(the film)

Flowers for Algernon and Charly Comparison

Plot Summary &
Comparison to
Keyes's Flowers



There are a few impertinent differences in the film version Charly. First, Dr. Strauss is a woman in the film, which provides a more motherly appeal to Charly's operation and post-operative evaluations. Besides the fact that Strauss is a psychologist, she is very worried that Dr. Nemur is pushing him too far intellectually and not giving him time to evolve emotionally. While the male Dr. Strauss also believes his intellectual improvement overpowers his emotional development, he is not nearly concerned as the female Dr. Strauss.

Also, Alice Kinnian is a widow and engaged to a new man with whom she is writing a joint thesis for her doctorate in the film. Her emotional involvement with Charlie interferes with her private relationship with her fiance Frank to the point where she wants to resign from the project.

Charly's characterization varies a bit in the film. While still respectful and warm-hearted before his operation, he becomes more aggressive towards the scientists as well as Alice Kinnian. He spies on her at her apartment and then continues by assaulting her. Alice's rejection of Charly leads him to buy a motorcycle, do drugs, and have flings with other women. Nevertheless, he returns to find Alice waiting for him and they immediately go off on their own private trip for weeks. During their vacation away from the city, they jokingly say that they are married. They return to the city the day before the big conference very happy and giddy. In the novel, Charlie and Alice do have a romantic relationship, but it is interrupted by Fay. Charlie and Alice also argue regularly in the novel about his intelligence, making their relationship less enjoyable. The perfect, romantic relationship in the film was undoubtedly added for Hollywood. A love story is always liked by audiences. One thing that remains true in both the novel and film, however, is that Charlie tells Alice to leave so he can regress alone and she can remember him as being smart.

Another important difference between the novel and the film occurs at the conference. In the novel, Dr. Nemur admits they did not wait long enough to see if the results were permanent before trying the operation on a human. This greatly upsets Charlie and he lets Algernon out of his cage in the middle of the presentation. In the film, Dr. Nemur knows that the phase 5 mice are exhibiting erratic behavior, but does not tell Charly. Instead, Charly learns this backstage and proceeds to announce it to the whole audience, embarrassing Nemur and Strauss. This new comes as a shock in the movie because the doctors never mention to Charly that the procedure might not be permanent. In the film, on the other hand, the potential of the surgery only being temporary is told to Charlie before he undergoes the operation, resulting in its expectancy by the reader.

Perhaps the biggest difference of all is the progress reports. In the novel, the whole story is told through a series of progress reports written by Charlie. This allows the reader to know his memories, feelings, and thoughts throughout the experiment. In the film, however, Charly does not write anything down about the experiment, resulting in a disconnection between the audience and the protagonist. It is possible that if Charly had written progress reports he would have been able to express himself better to Alice rather than attacking her in passion and having a wild streak. More importantly, the delivery of the story is completely changed in the film, which is surprising because Keyes was praised for his use of the diary as a way to tell Charlie's story.

In all, the changes made to the film are typical Hollywood changes that are made to most literary adaptations. The movie is easier to comprehend because is does not include Charlie's thoughts and raw emotions. All that is seen is his actions, and audiences can only assume his reasoning or motivation behind those actions. As a result, the film is a weak representation of Keyes's masterpiece Flowers for Algernon. While Cliff Robertson portrays Charlie very well, it is the screenplay that disappoints.



Back to Top