Book vs Movie: Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis

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This movie and book are a little different from the rest of this series so far. It’s the first nonfiction book I’ve done and the movie is not meant to be an adaptation. Rather it’s simply inspired by the book. Which makes sense if you know anything about the movie.

I actually came across the book accidentally; I was searching the library catalog for the movie and instead the book came up. I remembered seeing it when I was younger and only vaguely remembered it. I was curious how it’s story could have come from a nonfiction book, much less one written by a scientist. I didn’t expect the book to be as interesting as it was. The full title is, Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist’s Astonishing Journey into the Secret Society of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis and Magic. I assumed it would be a dry scientific statement of facts, when actually it’s written as a narrative of the author’s experience. It begins with his first adventure to South America where his interest in ethnobotany began. The rest of the book tells the story of his trip to Haiti in the hopes of discovering the secret to making zombis, assumed to be a drug made from a plant with an anesthetic effect. While relaying his experiences, he includes information about the country’s history, it’s culture and political structure. This provides a much larger story about Haiti’s political and social issues at the time.

It’s been a long time since I saw the movie and watching it again I realized how much I didn’t remember. The images that had stuck in my mind of zombies and magic made up a very small part of the movie, and mostly appeared as dreams or hallucinations. Surprisingly, the movie’s basic plot doesn’t deviate that much from the author’s story. They used a fictional name instead of the author’s and additional changes that enhance the story and gets movie viewers invested in the characters. Including a romantic subplot which of course provides an excuse for sex scenes. And while the main character does have to battle with unseen forces, the scariest parts come from real world horrors.

The book and the movie are both excellent and a preference for one or the other would depend on the type of experience you’re looking for. The book tells a compelling true story that also educates the reader. I’d recommend it if you are interested in learning more about the country of Haiti and the voodoo culture. While the movie does a great job integrating the author’s story into an entertaining horror movie.

 

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