Reading Jeannette Walls' 2005 memoir, The Glass Castle, is a roller coster. The story is essentially the definition of stranger than fiction. Told entirely from Walls' own perspective, the narrative recounts her eclectic and erratic childhood, filled with poverty and tough love. And now it's about to be the subject of a major motion picture starring Brie Larson as Wallts herself. Fans of the book will no doubt want to know how accurate The Glass Castle movie is to the book, but as for how accurate The Glass Castle is compared to reality, that's a question only Walls can answer.
Like any other adaptation, the film, directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton, does take some liberties from the book, like cutting out content and re-writing scenes. But they are all changes Walls insisted in an interview with Vanity Fair "were always informed by what actually happened." Bigger differences that veered from fact to fiction, like the increased role of Walls' first husband (her boyfriend in the film), are marked pretty obviously. For example, while all the main characters keep their real names, Walls' significant other does not, suggesting a fictionalization of the character. "He [Cretton] made smart choices and took certain liberties, and I thought it was brilliantly done," Walls added.
Despite these significant changes, in some ways, the Glass Castle movie is actually more accurate than the book, as the medium of film has allowed for a few more personal touches to be included in the story. In the book, Walls writes about her mother, Rose Mary Walls, an artist who loves to paint — a passion she sometimes enjoys at the expense of her children. In the film, Rose Mary's art isn't just described, it's seen. In preparation for the film, Cretton met Rose Mary, who now lives with Walls in Virginia, and even got her to provide some of her personal artwork for the film. "He even got Mom to paint a special portrait, based on my father, but with the face of Woody Harrelson, who plays Dad," Walls wrote in The LA Times.
The film is also able to marry Walls' recollections — her point of view — with slightly more objective images taken from home movies and old video footage. The Glass Castle ends with a collection of family photos and footage of Walls' parents taken from a documentary about their years as squatters in New York City. These small glimpses into the lives of the real Walls family allow for a slightly different perspective to enter into the narrative. A perspective that some might argue is more "accurate" when it comes to reality.
As a memoir, The Glass Castle is in no way an absolute truth. Like any life story, it is viewed through a specific and personal lens. Walls' own recollections might be her truth, but they aren't necessarily the truth. Her mother, for example, might disagree with her perception of events, as could her siblings, even though they were all there together. I think it's fair to say that The Glass Castle is most accurate to Walls' version of events as they were written in her memoir. As for how accurate the film is to real events, that's something we'll never have the answer to.