Comparison and Contrast of the "Flowers for Algernon" Book and Movie

by Danny Djeljosevic
Cliff Robertson starred in a TV adaptation of

Cliff Robertson starred in a TV adaptation of "Flowers for Algernon." He reprised the role for "Charly."

Charley Gallay/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Daniel Keyes' 1966 novel "Flowers for Algernon" is a heart-wrenching story about science and the price of intelligence, which Keyes based on an earlier short story he published in 1959. In 1968, director Ralph Nelson and writer Stirling Silliphant adapted the novel into a feature-length film, "Charly," starring Cliff Robertson. While the two works follow the same basic plot, the two differ in certain details and even their endings.


In both "Flowers for Algernon" and "Charly," Charlie ("Charly" in the film) Gordon is a mentally challenged man with a basic job in a bakery until he undergoes an experimental procedure that increases his intelligence. Over time, Charlie becomes incredibly smart, which costs him his job and changes the way he interacts with people and vice versa. However, the change turns out to be temporary. During both stories, he becomes involved with his night school teacher, Alice. The title of the novel refers to Algernon, a lab mouse that receives the procedure and proves a barometer for Charlie's mental capacity and intellectual longevity.


The primary difference between "Flowers for Algernon" and "Charly" is the way the book and the film choose to tell the story. Keyes wrote "Flowers For Algernon" as a series of journal entries from Charlie's perspective, allowing the reader to track Charlie's changes in intelligence through his spelling and grammar improving and later deteriorating. That style would be difficult to present in film form. Nelson and Silliphant opt to present the story as a straightforward cinematic narrative.


In the novel, Charlie begins to realize romantic feelings for Alice, but can't get intimate with her due to his childhood trauma. Later in the story, Charlie gets involved with his neighbor, a bohemian artist named Fay. However, his research into his own condition distracts her; she moves on. Eventually, Charlie gets back with Alice until he pushes her away due to his declining intelligence. In the film, Alice has a fiancee. She rejects a very forceful advance from Charly, who reacts by leaving to adopt a wild lifestyle full of motorcycles and women. Charly soon returns to Alice; the two decide to forge a relationship before finding out that Charly's intelligence is reverting. The ending of the romance is similar to the book, however, with Charly rejecting Alice in the end.

The Ending of the Novel

The film and the book deviate most in their endings. In the novel, readers watch Charlie's intelligence gradually decrease as the procedure turns out not to be finite. He soon reverts to his original IQ, returns to the bakery and returns to Alice's night school class, much to her dismay, because Charlie had forgotten that he wasn't enrolled anymore. Realizing what he had lost, Charlie leaves his old life to stay at a home for the mentally challenged, away from everyone he's ever known. Charlie concludes his narrative with a final request: that the person reading his journal puts flowers on Algernon's grave.

The Ending of the Film

After Charly realizes his intelligence is decreasing what it was before the procedure, he panics, imagining his original self waiting for him at every turn. Charly works with scientists, but soon finds no hope in reversing his decline. Instead of showing Charly's decline, the penultimate scene of the film has Alice asking Charly to marry her. He refuses, telling her to leave. "Charly" concludes with a brief scene of Alice watching the reverted Charly playing on a seesaw with children in a playground. The camera zooms in and freezes on Charly's face, mouth agape in childlike glee, and quietly fades into the credits.

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