The adaptability of Flowers for Algernon has been commented on by critics and fans alike. The transfer over from short story to novel is striking because both versions of the story won the highest awards in the science fiction field. While the novel is now more widely read than the short story, the existence of the short story proves that this story is adaptable and versatile. In either case, the written versions retain - in contrast to film, musical, and televised versions - the power of Charlie’s first-person narration and the epistolary format.
The most popular film adaptation is “Charly” (stylized CHAЯLY) (1968), directed by American director Ralph Nelson. The screenplay was written by Stirling Silliphant. The lead actor Cliff Robertson won the Academy Award that year for Best Actor. While the general storyline regarding Charlie’s growth in intelligence and his eventual decline stays the same, the story that Charly tells is framed rather differently. One cover of the film describes it as “A love story that begins with an incredible experiment!” Instead of focusing on Charlie’s growth and development as an aware and intelligent human being, the film focuses on the romantic relationship between Charlie and Alice. Furthermore, as this romantic arc serves as the primary plot, elements of the narrative are changed. The research conference is placed towards the end of the movie, as opposed to its original placement in the middle of the story. (In the book, this conference served as a climactic moment which changed the direction of Charlie’s actions and aims.) As a film, this adaptation inevitably loses the intimacy and potency of Charlie’s first-person diary entries, opting instead for a fluid third-person perspective.
In 1978, a musical was produced called “Charlie and Algernon,” which was nominated for the 1981 Tony Award for Best Original Score. This musical adapted a lot of its content from the 1968 movie rather than the novel. Multiple other adaptations, such as TV movies, have been made based off of Flowers for Algernon.
(For a link to the full 1968 movie, see Links section.)