Julian Schnabel made a movie based on this memoir. The movie with the same name as the book, like the book, recounts Arenas’ life. It details his birth in rural Cuba, his youth and his growth as a writer. It shows how he struggled to get published his works considered counterrevolutionary by the Cuban government, his imprisonment and his eventual release from Cuba. It shows him migrating to the U.S. achieving some recognition and success there, before dying of AIDS.
Schnabel inevitably has not been able to put the whole content of the book into the movie. However the essence and most of the themes of the book have been incorporated into the movie. Adapted films may be able to bring a book to life. However it is not possible to make a movie from a book with as much detail or depth as a book. In Schnabel’s case adaptation of Before Night Falls, became even more difficult because the book was not only the story of the life of one man but the book also portrayed political history that was quite complicated in nature. A faithful and total adaptation of the memoir would need more than six hours of viewing. Schnabel while missing out on many portions of the book however remains faithful to some of the important actual events in the life of Arenas. Schnabel handles the movie with a light touch with none of the weighty sequences found in the book. He does no go into the details of the brutality and torment Arenas experiences in prison. The description of life in the Cuban prison had made the book unique.
Arena’s sexual explorations portrayed in the book are portrayed quite timidly in the film. Schnabel does explore the pleasure, freedom and promiscuity of beach culture, but he does this only peripherally. In the book, according to Arenas he has had about 5000 sexual partners by the age of 25. However in the film, he is shown as having no more than what he can