Retelling a novel in a film adaption can be challenging. One needs to consider casting, as well as the context and setting of the story and more. Most important, the main theme should be faithfully represented. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The scarlet letter (1850) and Roland Joffe’s film (1995) of the same title have certain things in common: both feature the hardened life of Hester Prynne, who commits adultery in Puritan Boston in the mid-seventeenth century. However, the differences between the novel and the film are so prominent that the film can be a problematic retelling. The novel reveals the tragic lives of the characters – Hester and Pearl Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth – as the inevitable result of the narrow and relentless Puritan society in the mid-seventeenth century. The film, in contrast, gives its leading roles unrestricted liberty, both physically and spiritually, rather than being subjected to the Puritan morality in the original story. This mismatch between the traits of main characters and their setting in the Puritan town compromises the integrity of the story. Joffe presents The Scarlet Letter as an overtly sensual retelling of the novel. The alterations he made in both the plot of the story and the nature of its leading characters are a total distortion of the novel. The film portrays Hester Prynne, starred by Demi Moore, who leaves her husband in Europe and comes to live in puritan Boston in the mid-seventeenth century. Her unconventional behavior and opinions draw attention from the repressed Puritans in town. She then meets the passionate young minister Arthur Dimmesdale, starred by Gary Oldman, whose sermons deeply touch her. The minister is also attracted by her charm and they soon secretly fall in love. After receiving the news that Virginian Indians have killed Hester’s husband, she gets pregnant, bearing the minister’s child. She is nonetheless accused of adultery even if it is not known whether her husband is alive then. In order to protect the respectable minister, she refuses to tell the name of the father and is condemned to wear the scarlet letter A as a badge of ignominy. She is not repentant and continues to challenge the principles of the Puritan society openly. Meanwhile, Dimmesdale also suffers great pain from his secrete guilt. Hester’s husband then appears in town and becomes a killer to take vicious revenge on Dimmesdale. With the help of Indians, Hester and Dimmesdale leave the town finally and enjoy a happy ending. Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, allows Hester Prynne to have a freedom of mind, undisciplined by the prejudice and principle of the society. “The world’s law was no law for her mind”. However, she keeps her “freedom of speculation” all within herself. She does not want to irritate the authorities and lose the right to raise her Pearl. Conversely, Joffé apparently attempts to give Demi Moore complete freedom of mind and speech that seem totally unrealistic for a woman in the given setting and time. He glorifies the character of Hester Prynne by making her unbelievably strong, out-spoken and full of righteous justice. He portrays her as a rather wealthy heroine who buys indentured labor to farm the land instead of doing needlework. He even allegorizes Hester as a feminist by making her to confront the male dominated authorities several times in the film. When Demi Moore is accused of heresy because of disregarding “the law of men,” she questions the magistrates that “If the discourse of woman is ‘untutored chattering,’ then why does the Bible tell us that women shall be the teachers of women?” It seems rather bizarre her argument is beyond the magistrates’s power of refutation. More peculiar, Joffe describes her as a true friend to Mistress Hibbins, standing up for her when she is suspected to be a witch at the judicial hearing. Hester says bravely that “Mistress Hibbins is no witch. And she committed no crime beyond speaking her mind.” This overt battle with the public contradicts entirely with the image of Hester in the book as she “interferes neither with public nor individual interests and convenience” (209). Instead of showing Hester as a female character in a setting parallel to Hawthornes’s depiction of Puritan town in 1642, Joffe makes her too avant-garde and aggressive for her period of time. Joffe misinterprets Hester’s morality under the Puritan setting by making noticeable change to her sense of sin in the film version. In the novel, Hester firmly believes she has sinned by the liaison with the minister though she never regrets their sincere love. She, therefore, throughout the book, does penance by living an ascetic life in an abandoned cottage at the outskirt of Boston. She is totally deprived of social interactions, with no friends and seeking none; she makes a living doing needlework and raises Pearl alone; she even gives out charity to the even more miserable beings. By doing so, she hopes that atonement can be made for “a union that is unrecognized on earth”. Hawthorne portrays her anguished by the public bitterness and conscious of the shame brought by the scarlet letter, but remains uncomplaining. In the film, however, Hester has no contrition or guilt nor does she think she has sinned at all. Right after Demi Moore is imprisoned because of adultery, she questions Dimmesdale that “Do you believe we’ve sinned? What happened between us has a consecration of its own!” Later in the scaffold scene, she challenges the Governor again on her understanding of sin: “I believe I have sinned in your eyes, but who is to know that God shares your views.” Whereas Hawthorne portrays Hester as a victim of Puritanism principles by presenting her sufferings and defenselessness to the notion of sin, Joffe makes her more like a victor over the “law of men.” Due to the absent conscious of sin in Demi Moore, Joffe is unable to bring to light the transfiguring and ascendant effects taken place in Hester in the novel, which is driven by her sense of sin. Therefore, he fails to underscore her transformation as Hawthorne does, which results from the inhuman nature of Puritan society – the main issue that Hawthorne criticizes. As Hester’s guilt-wracked lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, is not only too powerful a character in the film, but he has too much flexibility in expressing his love. In the movie, he does not reveal bravely to be the child’s father only because Hester pleads with him. However, “everything in [his] nature cries out for it.” Joffe’s Dimmesdale no longer has the nature of cowardice and hypocrisy, but is almost as brave and honest as Hester is. He even defends her innocence as he accuses her confinement as “an abomination.” Joffe manages to set up excessive interviews between Dimmesdale and Hester, only to demonstrate that he has true love for her and desperately wants to help her out by risking himself. Even more at the end of the movie, when Hester is about to be executed for witchcraft, Dimmesdale confesses his love and secret to the public: “I love this woman. I am the father of her child. And in God’s eyes, I am her husband.” He then puts the string on his own neck, wiling to die for Hester. By openly challenging the rules of the town, Joffe’s Dimmesdale seems to have a negative view on Puritanism as well. Joffe reverses the role of Dimmesdale to an emotive and courageous man who has a voice for his love and a respect for human nature. This revision is problematic because such qualities are deprived in this repressed “Puritan divine” as decribed in the novel, whose puritanical morality is so deep-rooted. Joffe overly emphasizes the emotional appeals to the audience by producing a Hollywoodized happy-ending. In the novel, Hawthorne creates a single powerful climax: all the other human voices and music subdue, left with only the majestic voice of Dimmesdale’s confession and the revelation of the scarlet letter on his breast. At this point, Hawthorne pushes all the tension and suppressed emotions – anguish, sin and repentance – to an extreme that they can bear no more but to be released into the final lyric paragraphs. The peaceful dialogue between Hester and Dimmesdale before his death serves as a powerful form of salvation for the previous vehement narrative as well as the burdened tragic lives of Hester and Dimmesdale. Joffe, however, creates different tension points in his ending. He depicts Hester, as a champion of justice, asks to be hanged together with Mistress Hibbins; then Dimmisdale heroically declares his love for Hester and is willing to dye for her; finally and most absurd, a rebellion by the Indians saves them all, turning the film into an action movie. Joffe introduces digression to release the main tension in the story. Though the ending that Hester and Dimmesdale live happily afterwards might be more comfortable for the audience, it is much less powerful than the one in the novel. Joffe portrays both Hester and Dimmesdale as the brave and passionate warriors against the Puritan society’s inhumanity, rather than being victims. Of course, it is good that Joffe believes that Hester and Dimmesdale eventually triumph over the repressed Puritan doctrines, but by giving them much more undisciplined freedom in their nature than Hawthorne does, he seems to deny the fact that they are ever repressed or affected by Puritanism. Assuming that both Hester and Dimmesdale have emancipated spirits almost equivalent to modern-day people, Joffe manages to cross out the imprint left on them by Puritanism in the mid-seventeenth century in Puritan Boston. By depriving those characters of the tragic consequences from the Puritan principles, he undermines the intention of Hawthorne in reforming Puritanism in the novel.