1: Analysis of the Book

Tristram Shandy, written in the latter part of the 18th century was a breakthrough novel of its time. Like many artistic innovations, this one was not universally applauded when it was first published in 5 installments and 9 volumes. Today it reads like an oddity of times and mannerisms long forgotten by modern civilization. What seemed chaotic and exotic in its day seems no more fashion-forward than the idea of random-access-memory. The novel consists mainly of a simple story, that of Tristram’s conception, birth, and childhood misfortunes. The manner this story is told, its discursiveness, random time shifts, and inconclusive interruptions, is what makes this novel a notable departure from the conventional narrative novel form of its time. Today the novel is still slightly amusing as Tristram narrates his own story of his “misfortunes” as a baby and child amidst his “opinions” as a man. To add to the confusion, a second sub-plot emerges about Tristram’s Uncle Toby and his misfortunes and escapades. The novel is far too long and digressive to be read on its own merits, but is rather something to be studied in the context of the development of the novel form in English or in the context of a book adapted to film.

2: Analysis of the Film

Throughout the movie, our main character, Steve Coogan, plays himself and Tristram Shandy as well as Walter Shandy, Tristram’s father. While he is doing this, he is speaking directly to the audience, which will definitely confuse the viewer. Originally, this movie is like an interview of sorts, but then it eventually becomes a film within another film. The story line moves back and forth constantly between the story of Tristram Shandy’s miserable childhood and birth and the actors’ personal and professional lives. This all becomes confusing and muddled such that the viewer doesn’t know what is going on in the movie. The final product of this incredibly stupid and boring movie is almost as useless as reading the book. How this unreadable book was adapted into an unwatchable movie is anyone’s idea.

3: Analysis of the Adaptation

Michael Winterbottom chose a difficult task when he took on the 18th century Tristram Shandy to make into a film. He chose two well-known English comic actors, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon to hold the main plot lines while he endeavored to give modern viewers a taste of this very eccentric novel. Like the book, the movie is narrated by the main character, Tristram Shandy, who is played by Coogan. The story of Tristram’s conception, birth and childhood accident are the main action pieces in the movie as in the first few volumes of the book. The Uncle Toby part of the story is also addressed in full costume, accent and mannerisms of upper class English society. The entire feel of the film, like the book, is of a spoof or comedy of manners. What makes this adaptation work is that the present-day actors also present their lives and conflicts almost like an added sub-plot. The confusion begins when the editor jumps us from the 18th century back and forth to our own time. The main characters of the 18th century story are also the main characters of the modern day relationship story between the actors, their girlfriends and the movie producers.  Stating that the film is much more complex and chaotic than the novel is a vast understatement. The “feel” of the movie is well in line with the “feel” of the book. Both are intended to obfuscate and confuse their audience while raising questions about the purpose of their art form. Both successfully raise the question of whether life is a continuous chain of events or if life is a series of disconnected moments that we remember according to their impact on us. This self-reflective style is far more familiar today than it was in the 18th century. The final question of whether either of these artistic pieces is worth the effort to engage with is possibly the most important question one could ask.

4: Online Research on the Film

Roger Ebert writes his usual straightforward, intimate review of the movie in this review. But this review is not a usual good review, as he bashes the movie on how bad it really is and how it can’t possibly be filmed from the book that its based off of. He even mentioned on the first line that he started reading “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman” in 1965, and has not gotten done reading it since.,0,171714.story

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune writes a very interesting review of this movie, where he actually praises Michael Winterbottom, calling it “Winterbottom’s luckiest project yet”. He also reviews the novel, which he called “The world’s strangest memoir” in the review, which is a bit unusual, as this is a more of a movie review and not a book review.

This site is more of a review for parents about the movie. However, it is incredibly interesting. It is interesting because it points out many things that parents don’t want their kids to watch, such as Alcohol/Drug content, Profanity, and other things like that. If I were a parent reading this, I would definitely not allow my child to watch this movie, considering how bad of a Rated R movie it is. For example, Screenit does an example of everything that would put off a parent from letting their kid or even teen watch this movie. For example, the site says there are 36 “f” words, 3 “s” words, 11 slang terms using male genitals, 1 slang terms for the female anatomy, 3 asses (all used with “hole”), 2 damn, 1 bollocks, 1 hell, 1 S.O.B., 3 uses of “god” and 1 use each of “Christ”. They don’t give analysis or any merits of this movie, and only are informing the viewer of problematic contents. 

5: Critical Argument Paragraph

The producers of this film within a film being made as a “mockumentary” appear to love the battle scenes and love story that goes within the movie. What makes this film very strange is the fact that there are two love scenes that go on simultaneously, which makes it very hard to figure out who Coogan in a relationship with. At the end of the film during the closing credits, there is a crazy, but funny, scene where Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan battle to see “who is a better Al Pacino.”The person who does the better Al Pacino, I believe, has got to be Steve Coogan. Coogan is able to emulate Pacino nearly word for word which is very impressive. Although the movie is built as a British Comedy, there is nothing funny or interesing in the movie, besides the aformentioned Al Pacino war between Coogan and Brydon.



  1. Anthony, when I read, in your film analysis paragraph, that you found the film to be boring and stupid, I thought: he’s going to have trouble in this class. Because there is more boring and stupid to come! But then in your adaptation analysis you showed that the film wasn’t boring and stupid. That is, you found something redeemable in the film, even if it was just a question as to whether it was worth the effort to make the film. So I hope you will continue to find what is redeemable and challenging in the films we view, rather than dismiss them as boring and stupid.

    That said, beware of relying on film reviews in your online research. And you need a thesis statement in your critical argument paragraph (even if you’re dealing with a silly prompt about Pacino), otherwise (as in your paragraph) you’ll be all over the place and unfocused.

    It might be valuable for you to take a look at the “frequent problems” page, particularly #4 and #6.

    9/10. Joseph Byrne. ENGL329B.

  2. I forgot to check the “notify me” button. So if you want to respond to my comment above, you can reply to this one and respond. Joseph Byrne. ENGL329B.

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