Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story


1.       The major, overriding theme of the film is the unpredictability of life and how those who try to dictate its outcome will fail.  Both Steve Coogan and Tristram Shandy’s father quickly learn that no matter how hard they try to control their lives, and the lives of those around them, it proves to be an impossible thing to do.  And in a way both men come off as a bit narcissistic in their controlling and overbearing ways. Both men are obsessed with their own lives and careers, and as a result they continually seek ways to make the dominoes in their lives fall in a way that they see fit.

2.       Some important themes of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, a Gentleman by Laurence Sterne are the complexity of life as well as the inability to understand time and place.  In the novel Tristram is constantly explaining his life and the humorous mishaps and adventures he goes through, but in the novel his recollections all seem discombobulated and out of sorts; he does not describe his own birth until the 3rd volume of the book.  All of this disorganization reflects the overall chaotic and unpredictability of life itself, which in turn makes the book a difficult one to turn into a film.  As Coogan and the movie crew figured out, there are just too many important scenes in the book, such as the Widow Wadman and the various battle scenes, which makes it hard to decide what to put in the film and what to leave out of the film.


·         Offered one blogger’s take on the film; he notes how the film feels “incomplete” and “clumsy” by the end, which was most likely the intent of the director.

·         Review talks about the ways the film within the film went outside of its context, i.e. Tristram mentioning Groucho Marx and Pavlov’s dog. Also talks about the different personal spats between Coogan and Brydon, etc.

·         Review from Roger Ebert that really does a nice job of explaining and reviewing the film on an extremely intricate and fundamental level.

Roger Ebert’s review was especially helpful in terms of understanding the movie.  He begins by making a note of how the actual novel begins just before the birth of Tristram and ends right after Tristram is born.  This highlights the theme of how life is simply to far-reaching and full of detail for anyone to attempt to condense it or control it.  Ebert also does a nice job of relating this film to others in the genre, such as “Spinal Tap” and “Looking for Richard” which make it easier for people who seen these other films to understand this one.

4.  What does the film say about motherhood, in terms of the Tristram story, and the filming-of-Tristram story? How about fatherhood?

In the cases of the Tristram story and the filming-of-Tristram story, fatherhood is leaps and bounds ahead of motherhood in terms of perceived importance.  In the case of Tristram, we see how his father is annoyed at his wife because she mistakenly thought she was pregnant; he tells her that he it will cost him money.  Later in the story of Tristram, we see how as his mother is going through an excruciatingly painful child birth, the father is peacefully sleeping or casually talking with his friends.  He even gets annoyed that a mid wife is brought in to help with the birth, because he believes only a doctor is necessary.  Tristram’s father is portrayed as someone who is emotionally detached from his wife throughout the majority of his son’s birth.  Now whether this is the way things were done in that era, I do not know, but nonetheless he is portrayed like that.

In the filming-of-Tristram, Coogan is portrayed in a similar way; as somewhat of an absentee father and spouse.  Obviously Coogan was frantically working on his film, however he makes minimal time for his girlfriend, Jenny, and their child.  In the beginning of the film Coogan goes to see Jenny and his child for small spurts of time between filming, which makes it seem as if Coogan is not making sufficient family time.  Then towards the end of the film when the cast is filming the battle scene, Coogan has the perfect opportunity to relax with Jenny but he is preoccupied with Brydon’s increased role in the film.  Jenny even asks him to come to bed, telling Coogan that she had traveled 200 miles on a train with an infant just to have sex with him.  However, even the allure of sex is not enough to deter Coogan from his maniacal obsession with his role in the movie.  In the filming-of-Tristram, Coogan’s obsession with his own career and stardom drive him away from his relationship with his son and his girlfriend.


1. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland contains many underlying themes, and most of which center on the protagonist, Alice. Three main themes in the movie that revolve around Alice are identity, courage, and maturation. Throughout the movie, Alice is constantly facing doubts and criticism that she is not the actual Alice. However, by the end of the movie during the final battle, she shows that she has matured and that she has the courage to finish her fight with the Queen and the Jabberwocky; all of which links back to her finding her own identity.

2. In Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, one theme that seems to overlap between the film and the book is the maturation of Alice. The novel focuses a lot on Alice’s gigantic stature and the awkwardness she feels, which could be a reflection on the discomfort girls feel as they go through puberty. Some other themes that come up in the novel are the games Alice tries to solve and the power of dreams. Carroll was a mathematician, which makes his nonsensical approach to all of the various riddles and games Alice tries to solve confusing for the reader because one would think that a mathematician would want his heroine to solve these puzzles. And one final theme is the power, or importance, of dreams for Alice. In the novel, Wonderland exists in some other, dream-like realm where Alice goes and has another life. Some problems that Burton may have run into when he was adapting the book for his film was the theme about Alice being unable to solve riddles/games. Since this was obviously made for a movie-going audience, Burton could not really keep to the theme of Alice being unable to solve riddles. An audience that pays to see a movie does not want to leave a movie confused or unsure of what they just watched, especially in the case of a PG movie such as Alice in Wonderland.

3. —>This site helped explain a few of the more important themes in the novel. —>This blog was useful because it links/redirects the visitor to many other blogs about questions in the movie/novel, which offers numerous perspectives on the same issue. —>Useful critique and in depth look at the film.
The above source is especially important for understanding the film because the author goes into great detail about the themes Burton uses and how he portrays them in the film. There is one line in particular that really helps the reader understand where Burton is coming from,

“Tim Burton’s achievement in his vision of Alice in Wonderland is to situate self-inquiry against social expectation.”
This sentence truly sets the stage for the entire movie because it reflects the internal and external struggles that face the heroine, Alice, and how she has to juggle both expectations throughout the movie.


4. How does the film adaptation speak to its audience (21st century teenagers and adults) as opposed to the way the book speaks to its audience (19th century children, and the parents that read to them)?


Burton’s film adaptation speaks to its 21st century audience through the animation, the action, and the overall “in your face” quality of the movie while Carroll’s book speaks to his audience through the use of logic games and the overall absurdity of his novel. 


For Burton’s adaptation to be a successful one he had to grab his audience’s attention and never let go.  He was able to do this by putting his own, unique, dark take on the classic story.  Burton’s highly imaginative representations of the characters from the book also spoke to his audience, because his characters were so different, so odd looking, so unique, and so “in your face” that it would be hard for the audience to not watch the movie. 


In the case of Carroll’s novel, he used logical games and puzzles to garner the interest of parents and adults and he used his own creativity to endear the story to children.  Trying to figure out the puzzles and games Alice was faced with made the story an interesting read for 19th century adults.  And the overall strangeness and nonsensical nature of the story painted a picture of a fantasy land for children, who heard the story or read it to themselves, to get lost in.  The fantastic adventures of Alice kept children of the time interested and yearning to figure out what would happen to Alice next.


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