100 Film Favorites – #84: Holes
(Andrew Davis, 2003)
There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.
The great majority of you are roughly my age, so chances are good you’ve encountered Holes in some capacity. The novel was on pretty much every 4th-6th grade “recommended reading” list growing up. The book’s ubiquity and critical success virtually guaranteed it would get a movie adaptation eventually. That movie came in 2003, five years after the novel’s publication.
Holes is honestly among the best, most faithful adaptations of a book to film that I’ve ever seen. This is probably due in large part to the novel’s author, Louis Sachar, also writing the screenplay for the film. Practically every element of the book’s story and style made the transition from page to screen (the one major exception being that in the book Stanley is fat, and grows thinner over the course of his time at Camp Green Lake). The film preserves the time-hopping narrative style, with parallel story threads set in three different eras eventually converging.
The story, for those not already well-versed in Holes-lore, concerns Stanley Yelnats, a teenager who is mistakenly accused of stealing a star athlete’s shoes and as punishment is sent to a juvenile detention center called Camp Green Lake. Every morning at Camp Green Lake, the young inmates must dig a hole, five feet wide by five feet deep, in the cracked dirt of the dry lake bed. This digging, according to the adults running the camp, is meant solely to “build character.”
Stanley’s full name is Stanley Yelnats IV, and he comes from a long line of down-on-their luck Yeltnatses. The family’s perpetual misfortune is blamed on Stanley’s “no good, dirty, rotten, pig-stealing great-great grandfather,” who supposedly had a curse placed upon him when he broke a promise to a gypsy. Stanley sees his wrongful conviction as yet another manifestation of the family curse.
In three interweaving storylines, the film reveals connections between the stories of Stanley, his pig-stealing great-great grandfather, and the citizens of Green Lake, Texas, the thriving western town which long ago stood where the “Camp” is now, but which also fell victim to a curse of sorts.
To reveal much more would be to spoil the mystery and skillful storytelling of Holes. On the off chance you have neither read the book nor seen the movie at this point, you should do one of the two posthaste. Both possess a degree of narrative complexity not often seen in contemporary “children’s” literature. As a bonus, the barren, pockmarked vistas of “Green” Lake are spectacularly conveyed through impressive cinematography.
The film’s cast is impressive as well. Shia LaBeouf stars as Stanley, his first leading role in a theatrically-released feature film. Sigourney Weaver is the Warden of Camp Green Lake, and Jon Voight and Tim Blake Nelson play her two lackeys who serve as overseers. In one of her final live-action film roles, Eartha Kitt plays the old gypsy woman who curses the Yelnats clan.
Tidbit: I once tried digging a five foot – by – five foot hole as described in the book. However, I was at the beach, and hit the water table about 3 1/2 feet down. I’m still disappointed about it.
Brian Terrill is the host of television show Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain. You can keep up with Brian’s 100 Film Favorites countdown here.