Film That Book! Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Film That Book! Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Instead of sitting around complaining about Hollywood being devoid of ideas, we’re taking the initiative and stealing ideas from books first! So before the next sequel, franchise film or remake hits the screens, please consider investing in a library card and discovering the wonderful world of literature. Then start making speculative casting and directorial choices. Film That Book! It’s a game the whole internet can (and will) play!


Player Piano First Edition coverKurt Vonnegut’s first novel marks the start of a style that would define his career. While not as famous as Slaughterhouse-Five (few books are), it has all the makings of an easy cinematic adaptation. Set in a post-World War Three world where most factory jobs have been replaced by machines, the divide between the elite and the working class has grown even wider. Favoured citizen Paul Proteus, who enjoys his founding father’s legacy and status, rapidly becomes disenfranchised with the system and falls into the revolutionary Ghost Shirt Society.


It’s surprising more of Vonnegut’s work hasn’t been adapted. A book that seems to be even more relevant now than when Vonnegut wrote it. The parallel stories barely intersect, which provides a unique perspective on Vonnegut’s well-crafted world. Having said all that, a society where the machines do all the world isn’t entirely unappealing: and I guess that’s the point too. At a time when the divide between the billionaire rulers and the working class is not just prominent but the dominant paradigm,  this film would be an essential and powerful tool if wielded as effectively as Orwell’s 1984.


Dystopias are a dime a dozen, but only a handful of filmmakers do this really well. Alfonso Cuarón has done this brilliantly in Children of Men, and has repeatedly shown that has a fascinating focus on character within bigger environments. Bong Joon-ho is quite selective about his projects, with only half a dozen features directed in the last 17 years. Perhaps this would be too thematically similar to his upcoming Okja, or even Snowpiercer, but he could be the right fit for some Vonnegut. Like the character of the Shah in the story (see below), this is a story that feels like it would be best told by someone outside the Hollywood system.

Film That Book! Player Piano


Paul Proteus is described as 35, and  “tall, thin, nervous, and dark, with the gentle good looks of his long face distorted by dark-rimmed glasses.” While that description could happily fit any rising 30-something star, the casting of Chiwetel Ejiofor would bring some Oscar nominated gravitas to the role. Plus he’s an actor who can pull off dark rimmed glasses so why not? For Paul’s long-time colleague Finnerty, Vonnegut has a very specific description.”Finnerty had always been shockingly lax about his grooming… he was, in a coarse, weathered way: grotesquely handsome, like Abe Lincoln, but with a predatory, defiant cast to his eyes rather than the sadness of Lincoln’s.” These are the sorts of roles that Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti used to rule once upon a time. Michael Peña is the go-to character actor these days, but for good reason: he brings pathos and natural charm to every role he’s in. Paul’s wife Anita, in another important role, has a wonderful descriptive moment from Vonngeut: “With an austere dark gown that left her tanned shoulders and throat bare, a single bit of jewelry on her finger, and very light make-up, Anita had successfully combined the weapons of sex, taste, and an aura of masculine competence.” Well our mind just went straight to Zoe Saldana.

Film That Book! Player Piano

There’s another role we haven’t cast from a parallel storyline about the Shah of Bratpuhr, a spiritual lead from an underdeveloped nation who provides an outsider perspective on the mechanised society. Described as “encrusted with gold brocade and constellations of twinkling gems…He wore a flowing sandy mustache, a colored shirt, a boutonniere, and a waistcoat.” Speaking almost entirely through a translator, it would be incredibly fun to cast Keegan Michael Key in this role, and in a fun flip on their ‘Luther, Anger Translator’ sketches, have Jordan Peele as Key’s interpreter.

Did we get it right? Completely wrong? Who would you pick? What other books would you like us to do in this series? Let us know any or all of those things in the comments below.