Classic Film Review: Ulysses (1967)

Classic Film Review: Ulysses (1967)

Classic Film Review: Ulysses (1967) – A Clever Adaptation. By Christopher Patterson.

A Day in the Life of Absurd, Chaotic, Simple Mundanity

Ulysses (1967) is an adaptation of the much-loved novel of the same name. While love may be an exaggeration, it is still that book every professor makes you read that you want to forget. And with good cause. The book is a spectacular eruption of what writing is capable of, both in terms of prose and literary forms. This rendered the adaptation almost unfeasible. Although the plot of Ulysses is highly interesting, the book succeeds because of the multitude of themes, styles, and influences Joyce demonstrates through his engrossing prose. In other words, Ulysses is a book to be read, not seen. So to hear that an adaptation actually got it right seems impossible. Well, never say never.

This film not only mainly accomplishes adapting the book but also makes it work for cinema. In a sense impossible, but also the most Joyceian thing to hear. One of the main reasons why this film works so well is in how it adapts the book. So many parts of the novel’s stream of consciousness are, in other words, a person’s thoughts bursting out. Ulysses (1967) adapts this cleverly through the use of voice-over, which the actors powerfully use to truly capture the stream of consciousness Joyce was going for.

A wonderful example of this occurs in the latter third of the movie, when we adopt Molly’s viewpoint while she falls into a stream of consciousness in bed. Her narration and the thoughts she conjures up are brought to life by real-world images in unique styles. Given that it can be challenging to understand Joyce’s references at times, it is admirable how much was deciphered and so well, not just for adapting but for the big screen. Despite the fact that many of the novel’s passages seem nearly impossible to fully imagine, filmmaker Joseph Strick painted an understandable picture of many of the engrossing passages of the novel with an amount of precision that reflects in the film’s immense quality.

With all of this, there is one thing that truly makes this film such a masterclass, which is the screenplay, due in large part to lines, and just the film itself, which is based on one of the greatest novels of the last millennium. From the ways we shift to three different people’s lives in Dublin and how it is all weaved together, this script is truly one that feels planned to the bone with precision for everything that occurs and the many ideas it represents. 

Even more, this story offers one of the most interesting love stories I have seen, and in the most epic, non-epic fashion, thanks to the book being almost like a reimagining of The Odyssey, a Greek epic with one aspect being love. Ulysses is a representation and, in my eyes, a celebration of life, love, and the human mind. It’s a celebration of humanity and just existing in it. The film captures the feeling given by the book, though albeit a bit less so thanks to its screen time, making some aspects feel rushed thanks to having a comparison to help illustrate the flaws in this adaptation. 

An extra cherry on top is the acting. The acting truly from everyone feels standout here, as it is clear all the casts are truly giving it their all. Especially Milo O’Shea and Barbara Jefford, who give two of the most powerful performances in the film. Milo O’Shea, through his performance, almost seemed born to play this role with how perfectly he embodies the character and his personality. Barbara Jefford, on the other hand, stands out for her striking voice-over in the last third of the film, where she truly gives Molly a voice.

In nearly every sense of the word, this film is a true masterclass in every sense of the word, and similar to the book, it should be studied in colleges as required viewing.


Ulysses helps to remind all of us how beautiful life is, with some of the best writing and genius ideas to back it up.


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