WARNING!! Beyond this place, there be SPOILERS!!!
Nim lives on a remote South Pacific island with her father Jack, a marine biologist. They have no contact with civilization other than e-mail and an annual visit from a supply ship. Jack leaves Nim alone for a day while he sails off to study plankton. A sudden storm damages his boat, leaving him stranded at sea and with no way to get home to Nim. Nim, meanwhile, waits anxiously for her father’s return, passing the time doing chores and having fun with her pet sea lion and iguana. When reclusive adventure writer Alex Rover e-mails Jack with a research question, Nim finds a new diversion as well as a new friend. Eventually, Alex discovers that Nim is alone and in need of help, and volunteers to come to her rescue. But when Nim finally meets Alex, her expectations are let down, and their friendship is put to the test.
Both the book and the movie of Nim’s Island center on the idea of courage through heroism. How each approaches the theme makes for the greatest differences between them. The book shows Nim as a resourceful girl who can fend for herself in Jack’s absence: Adventure is an everyday thing for her. Her need for courage is seen in how she copes with Jack’s absence and the possibility that he won’t come home. Movie Nim is not as independent. Early in the movie, she shows some of the same feistiness as book Nim; she even argues to stay behind while Jack goes out to study his plankton. But when Jack is lost, Nim immediately feels helpless, and calls on Alex for help. It’s when situations arise – her fall down the mountain and the invasion of the cruise ship passengers, for example – that Nim digs to find her courage and resourcefulness.
Alex Rusoe is made a fuller character for the movie, and with great effect. Movie Alex is a full blown agoraphobic, who won’t go outside even to get her mail. Alex’s struggle with her phobias and various obstacles on her journey to Nim’s island make for many hilarious moments in the movie. To live out her fantasies of adventure and heroism, she develops an alter-ego: The Indiana Jones-like male adventurer of her novels, for whom she’s often mistaken. This alter-ego becomes her confidant and voice of reason that prods her along on her adventure. Book Alex, by contrast, does not get on the road until late in the story. She is as resourceful as book Nim, which helps her overcome the obstacles of traveling to Nim’s island. She doesn’t have the burden of phobias like her movie counterpart – only a fear of flying – and so her struggle is not deciding to face an obstacle, but how to do it.
Cutting communication between the movie characters is done to raise dramatic tensions. When book Jack is stranded, he and Nim send messages to each other via a frigate bird, so each knows what is happening with the other; no communication creates movie Nim’s anxiety and movie Jack’s urgency. In the book, Nim and Alex don’t e-mail as frequently as in the movie, and Alex doesn’t realize Nim’s dilemma is until late; movie Nim and Alex’s frequent e-mailing exposes Nim’s problem early and gets Alex going. Unfortunately, those changes result in the loss of depth in the relationships between Nim and Jack and Nim and Alex. Communication in the book not only conveys story information, but reveals character and establishes rapport with other characters.
Many more differences abound between Nim’s Island the book and movie. But the way the theme of courage is manifested through the three main characters (I didn’t discuss Jack here) and their inability to communicate with each other make the greatest differences. While the book shows richer relationships between the characters, the movie presents more conflicts where Nim, Alex and Jack discover or draw on their inner strength. Alex in the movie is more interesting because of her agoraphobia, though she’s not as resourceful as book Alex. Likewise, movie Nim lacks the spunk that makes book Nim memorable.
Nim’s Island the book is available through PINES. Check with a librarian for assistance.