Studio: Miramax (released Dec. 25)
Source material: “Cold Mountain,” novel by Charles Frazier (National Book Award winner 1997)
Storyline: A wounded soldier (Jude Law) deserts the Confederate army and struggles homeward across a ravaged land to keep his promise to return to the love he left behind (Nicole Kidman).
About the script: Minghella was resistant to doing yet another adaptation. Then he began receiving “Cold Mountain” from all directions. “I didn’t want to make a war film, and go into a period of history I knew nothing about,” he says. “I wanted to make a film about walking as a journey of the spirit. Then I opened ‘Cold Mountain,’ and in the front is an old Chinese epigram: ‘Men ask the road to Cold Mountain. Cold Mountain: there’s no through trail.’ I called Mirage before I was halfway through and said, ‘Please, I want to do this.’ I just knew it had in it all the things I needed.”
Biggest challenge: How to make an affirmation from a story that, on the face of it, is so heartbreaking. “I kept trying to bring the idea of the natural life and its rhythms to the surface. Like when Eileen Atkins (as Maddy, the goat woman) says, “Bird’s got a job, shit’s got a job, seed’s got a job.” If you reduce us to our primary functions, then we live, we mate and we die. And that’s what happens to Inman. It’s tragic, but it’s natural. And when Donald Sutherland (as Rev. Munroe) says about Ada’s mother, “We only knew each other 22 months, but it was enough to fill a life.” The idea is, that’s enough. For Ada and Inman, they kept their promises, and he did return, and that has to be enough for them both.”
Breakthrough idea: “The use of the well (to foretell Inman’s fate) was very important to me; it seemed full of mystery. (The device) is from medieval literature where you use symbols and signs, and the repetition and rhyme of them becomes very satisfying.”
Favorite scene: Ada and Inman, both painfully awkward, attempt to say goodbye on the porch of his home before he joins the soldiers marching off to war.
Lines we love: Inman to the Rev. Monroe (Sutherland): “God must get weary of hearing his name called down on both sides of an argument.” Ruby (Renee Zellweger), about the suffering caused by the war: “Every piece of this is man’s bullshit. They made the weather, and then they stand in the rain and say, ‘Shit, it’s raining!’ ”
Recognition to date: National Board of Review, best adapted screenplay.
Writer’s Bio: Writer-director Anthony Minghella has been Oscar-nominated in this category twice before, for the screenplays of “The English Patient” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” “The English Patient” won best picture and director Oscars for Minghella. He is also writer-director of the beloved romantic comedy “Truly Madly Deeply.”