The Irony of Irony: On Paul Verhoeven’s Adaptation of Gerard Reve’s De vierde man [The Fourth Man]

Peter Verstraten


Since the literary increasingly tends to refer to a mode ‘between page and screen’, the so-called adaptation studies are ‘on the move’ again. This article examines the not very recent, but nonetheless too sporadically examined case of ‘Dutch novel into Dutch film’ in order to consider whether there might be some leeway for film to position itself as a viable subject within Dutch studies. Against this background, a film inspired by a book by the renowned post-war writer Gerard Reve is analysed to argue that adaptation studies have the advantage of urging us to address the ‘form/content dilemma’: formal adjustments are required in case content is transferred from one medium to another. Paul Verhoeven’s 1983 adaptation of De vierde man [The Fourth Man] shows that the only way for film makers to work in the spirit of Reve is to insist on ‘the necessity of infidelity to its letter or form’. Opting for a ‘functional likeness’ rather than imitation, Verhoeven privileges the cinematic devices of deep focus and hyper-real colours in order to achieve the effect of an ‘irony of the irony’.


Irony; Adaptation; Dutch Cinema; Gothic; Femme Céleste

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