Charly is based on the book Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The movie won an Oscar for leading man Cliff Robertson, and although it strays a bit from the book, the movie is definitely a classic in many ways.
The acting and the filming in this movie are wonderful. I love the way Robertson doesn’t overplay Charly before his intelligence begins to build. The opening scene where he’s playing in the playground with the kids is superb — he’s carefree and happy and knows no other way to be. What we see as flashbacks in a journal in the book, are presented here chronologically, and a lot of his childhood memories — many of which were painful — are left out without detriment to the story. Charly is what we see.
We see Charly at work with his so-called friends, who play cruel pranks like putting dough in his locker in the morning that has yeast in it so that when he goes to his locker at the end of the day, it has risen to an enormous pile of dough that he can’t get hold of, and he laughs with everyone else without even realizing that they are laughing at him while he’s just laughing at the dough. We see how Charly is hurt later when he realizes how he was only the butt of their jokes and that they don’t like it when he becomes as smart as them, let alone smarter than them.
We see how Charly develops mentally first, without developing socially, and how his relationship with his night-school teacher, Alice Kinnian, blossoms and he becomes an adult, sharing his earlier delight with the world around him still but now a fuller delight given among equals, though in mental ways he has totally surpassed them. The filming of a montage of scenes of Charly and Alice in the autumn countryside — of Charly driving a motorcycle, then a convertible, enjoying the freedom of sharing it and his delight in everything that is so new to him — is beautifully done. And we see that when he returns to urban Chicago for the science conference, he is aware even of little nuances in the demeanour of the scientists that they’re hiding something from him.
One of the neat things to watch for is how his bare dingy room develops throughout the movie. In the book, we see how his writing becomes, first, more grammatically correct, and then, more sophisticated in sentence structure and vocabulary, then finally, in its insight and depth. In the movie, we see his mental development through his changing decor — the library he builds, the posters and paintings he collects, scientific experiments he conducts, and some more grown-up furniture compared to the child’s chair and blackboard easel he has at the beginning. Also, watch with interest how his relationship with Algernon, the mouse he has to beat running the maze, develops. A bit different from the book, but rather poignant as he comes to realize they will share the same fate.
I don’t want to spoil the ending for you if you’ve never seen the movie or read the book. What I will say is, Do both! Each is amazing in its own way; each is beautiful in its own way; each sends the message that as humans, we need to be accepting of the people and the world around us and maybe there’s a deep, beautiful reason why each of us is as we are. A classic movie you can watch on YouTube for free so make the popcorn, get into your comfy chair, and enjoy! * * * * *