Ghost of an Adaptation
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, the 2009 film starring Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner, is a very loose adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The film follows well-known photographer and bachelor, Connor Mead, as he attends his brother’s rehearsal dinner and wedding at his legendary, deceased uncle’s mansion. Upon his arrival at the estate he is reunited with his childhood love, who is also planning the wedding, and immediately tries to talk his brother out of getting married. From the very beginning Connor is a Scrooge-like character on the topic of love who receives visits from three different ghosts over the course of one night; the ghosts of girlfriends past, present, and future. While this movie ultimately has the same unhappy Scrooge-like character and story line with the ghosts, it is vastly different from Dickens’ original A Christmas Carol story.
The most obvious difference between the two stories is that Ghosts of Girlfriends Past isn’t a Christmas story. Instead of Christmas Eve, it begins on the eve of Connor’s brother’s wedding. Another perspective is that A Christmas Carol isn’t even truly a Christmas story. It is more a story about the importance of charity and happiness in the company of others than anything. The film captures similar themes but in a different way. It also has characters that represent the roles of characters in Dickens’ work. There is Connor as Scrooge but also Jenny Perotti as Scrooge’s childhood love, Connor’s Uncle Wayne as a Marley character who is trying to get him to learn from his ways after death, and even Melanie who is the underappreciated employee. The most obvious likeness to the story is the presence of the three ghosts and their missions to show Connor his past, present, and future. While the first two ghosts don’t have much in common with those in the story other than the job at hand, to help Connor learn from his past and present, the third ghost is eerily silent in her mission to scare him as a means of waking him up before his situation is irreversible. Much like Scrooge’s future, Connor’s holds a funeral with his brother as the only attendee. His future also shows a wedding between the love of his life, Jenny, and another man. A future that didn’t exist in Scrooge’s story but was possibly the greatest nightmare for Connor.
It’s obvious that the two stories have many differences but the main issue with this adaptation is that the entire story revolves around the protagonist’s love life and relationship with Jenny Perotti. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol the story focuses on how Scrooge has treated people over the years and what led him to this miserable demeanor. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past does the same with Connor’s love life and the way he treats women but focuses more on his childhood love than Dickens did with Scrooge’s character. There needed to be more emphasis on this character’s development and growth into a better person and less on the importance of his romantic relationship. We do see some of his growth from a man who cares more about his professional career than spending time with those he loves and, like Scrooge, he just generally treats everyone horribly. Near the end of the movie Connor says he’s a “lonely, ghost of a man”, which not only describes him but also Scrooge perfectly at the beginning of their stories. The ghosts that visited them were never real but more of a dream, a version of their own subconscious telling them something. Scrooge woke up the next day when his ghosts were supposed to come to him three separate nights. Connor is constantly in and out of his dream-like sequence, interacting back and forth with the ghosts and the wedding party at different times in the night.
In A Christmas Carol Scrooge is outwardly against Christmas, a day centered on love and happiness, while Connor is against the institution of marriage, a day also centered on love and happiness. For both stories the characters openly detested days that symbolized the polar opposite of who they were as people. Scrooge’s initial reaction to Christmas is “Bah! Humbug!” He detests the holiday and believes it is a time when people are foolish and spend money they don’t have. While Connor has grown to believe that marriage is an “archaic and oppressive institution” and the power in any relationship lies with “whoever cares less.” Scrooge was also a man who held the importance of power and money above caring relationships. They both accumulated things they thought could fill their empty lives but discovered that “power isn’t happiness” and “happiness comes from caring more about people, rather than less”.
While I believe Dickens’ A Christmas Carol affected the overall theme of becoming a better person and caring for others in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, I believe they focused too much on the childhood love story and not enough on the charitable aspect for it to be a truly accurate adaptation. Connor’s character is the over-sexualized, womanizing version of Dickens’ Scrooge but in the end both protagonists are able to turn their lives around. They begin to understand the importance of caring for others as well as the true meaning of happiness.
Dickens, Charles. “A Christmas Carol.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. Boston: Longman, 2010. 1376-1425. Print.
Waters, Mark. “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” New Line Cinema. 2009. DVD.