I don't mind adaptations varying from their source materials, but when there's no identifiable rationale for certain pointed alterations, you end up assigning all sorts of motivations to the adapter. For instance: Was screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (The Human Stain) so freaked out by the notion of an older man licking the menstrual blood off his former student's inner thigh that he purposely chose to confine himself to the single coy anecdote she recounts about a high-school boyfriend asking to watch her bleed? If so, fine—I would be pretty wide-eyed if such an act made it to the big screen, too. But in The Dying Animal, a minor Philip Roth novella, that unnerving scene had a purpose: It illustrated how far the narrator would go for the sole purpose of owning the total history of his conquest. In the movie, the older man doesn't imitate the high-school act, he just gets jealous. Crazy jealous. It makes you dislike him, but that's as far as it goes.
Elegy is about an aging professor and critic, David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), who seduces Consuela Castillo (Penélope Cruz), a slightly fussy ex-student of Cuban extraction. He adores her breasts and tries his best to ignore her naive approach to culture. Then he becomes obsessed. (Dennis Hopper, in the role of a poet friend, plays confessor for the purpose of exposition.) In contrast to the book, which is told in the first person and explicitly concerns the impact of the sexual revolution on an essentially conservative man born in 1930, the film does very little to get inside the head of its protagonist. We're left to wonder, uncomfortably, whether Consuela is indeed as one-dimensional as she seems, or if the professor is pressing her flat with the iron of his enormous ego. There's no point dwelling on the problem. Between the ugly digital photography, the repellent characters, and the free-floating misogyny, Elegy is an unpleasant film.