STRAUSS: I made you what you are and if you want to compare me to Frankenstein that’s your opinion but I think your life is now immeasurably better. You owe me this. You have an ethical responsibility –
CHARLIE: The old Charlie, not me. The old Charlie agreed to do this –
STRAUSS: We’re splitting hairs here –
CHARLIE: You want to talk Ethics? This is not some Kantian Categorical Imperative – STRAUSS: (becoming lost) Whoa, whoa, whoa –
CHARLIE: What would Hume say about this?
CHARLIE: David Hume. He sent Immanuel Kant on his road to –
STRAUSS: You’ve lost me here. We’re talking about Chicago.
CHARLIE: What are you saying – you haven’t read Hume?
STRAUSS: Charlie –
CHARLIE: Answer me. Have you read him or haven’t you?
STRAUSS: Probably in college –
CHARLIE: Probably? He’s one of the most brilliant minds of eighteenth century thought and you answer “probably?” I thought you were an educated man.
STRAUSS: I am. Charlie, I really need –
CHARLIE: How can you be educated if you haven’t read Hume? Have you read Hegel? Or Kierkegaard? Or Nietzsche? You must have read Nietzsche.
STRAUSS: He’s not in my field of expertise. You have to help me out here, Charlie. This is a great discovery I made – we made – and let’s face it, I could win the Nobel for this. Chicago is just the first step and I can’t take it without you.
(Charlie just watches him as the thought dawns:)
CHARLIE: I’m smarter than you, aren’t I?
(Strauss doesn’t answer. Charlie orders, in anger:)
CHARLIE: Say it.
STRAUSS: Yes, Charlie, you’re smarter than me.
CHARLIE: (a wry smile) I’ve learned more in four months than you’ve learned in your entire life. You’ve made me a freak at the other end of the scale, haven’t you?
(Strauss says nothing.)
THE STORY: An adaptation of the novel about a mentally-challenged young man who is brought to genius-level by a scientific experiment, and who then must face the inevitable disintegration of his mind and his return to mental incapacity.
THE BACKSTORY: When I was asked to do a new adaptation of Flowers For Algernon, I was thrilled. Cliff Robertson’s performance in the movie Charley, for which he won an Academy Award, is still remarkable, but the movie itself creaks and embarrasses. The film chose only to cover the first part of the book, and ends with Charley realizing that his transformation is but temporary. The deep emotion that the book elicits, I felt, comes with that disintegration, and I wanted to take the audience through that difficult passage, ending with the death of Algernon, which is what gives the title such metaphorical resonance.
I was quite pleased with the final film, though the critics were less so. The producers, who had been so supportive of it and me up to this point, suddenly dropped us both, as if the critics had made up their mind for them. The film was not sent out for Academy review, nor was it released on DVD. Daniel Keyes, the author of the book, was extremely complimentary, however. Watching it still moves me.