This post contains not only frank discussion of the second episode of HBOs adaptation of the novel Sharp Objects, but also a subject matter that some may find triggering.[hhmc]
Last weeks premiere of Sharp Objects introduced one of the more harrowing elements of Gillian Flynns original novel. In the final moments of the episode, as Camille (Amy Adams) climbed into her bath, audiences could see words carved all over her body. In the novel Camille explains: “I am a cutter, you see. . . I am a very special case. I have a purpose. My skin, you see, screams. Its covered with words—cook, cupcake, kitty, curls—as if a knife-wielding first-grader learned to write on my flesh.” Camilles screaming skin would present a challenge for Flynn and co-creator Marti Noxon, but in the latest episode of Vanity Fairs companion podcast Still Watching, Flynn explains how director Jean-Marc Vallée found the solution.
Vall´ée who did such tremendous work with subjective experience and memory in Big Little Lies and Wild has once again created an on-screen narrative that is oriented firmly in the protagonists head. Despite a beefed up role for Chris Messinas Detective Richard Willis—which Flynn also addresses in the podcast—this is clearly Camilles story. We see flickers of her memories and the various ghosts who haunt her throughout the show. But how would the show tackle the part of the novel which sees the words carved into Camilles skin flaring and burning in her own mind at certain spots of the first-person narrative? For example, how do you visually convey the following sentence: “Maybe we can pick this up later, Miss. . . Camille. A word suddenly flashed on my lower hip: punish. I could feel it getting hot.”
As many viewers noted last week, Camilles words have subtly found their way into objects sprinkled throughout the episodes. In the premiere it was “BAD” scrawled on a desk, “WRONG” flashing on a car radio, or “GIRL” scratched into Ammas dollhouse before they all disappeared. Once again, these words that are not really there put us squarely in Camilles head. In this weeks episode, the banner behind a grieving mother flashed “HURT” before reverting to “HOPE.” Or, less subtly, the work “SCARED” showed up on Camilles car door as she was mustering the courage to head into the Keene family wake. It later showed up as “SACRED” after Adora gave Camille a lecture.
Flynn said the problem of Camilles words popped up in every conversation during the 12 years it took to bring her debut novel to HBO. The way the words have been seamlessly integrated into the show—rather than, say, superimposed text that floats up over the screen—means that Sharp Objects can avoid the kind of obsessive fan-driven Easter Egg hunts that dont quite fit the story Flynn, Noxon, and Vallée are trying to tell. “If youre paying attention, you see it,” Flynn explains. “But if you miss it, its not a big deal either. Im not a huge fan of the things you must see but I think those are lovely little notes for people.”
In the wide-ranging interview on the podcast, Flynn also discusses the way local mythology has been boosted from the book to the show. The Woman in White—a ghostly, witch-like figure who makes her first appearance in this episode—was inspired in small part by a real-life Missouri urban legend call Momo. That hairy yeti and the ghostly lady spotted by young eyewitness James Capisi have very little in common other than the way they serve to reflect the very real monsters that lurk in the shadows of every small town.
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:Patricia Clarkson Makes the Sharp Objects Press Tour Look GreatJoanna RobinsonJoanna Robinson is a Hollywood writer covering TV and film for VanityFair.com.