The Name of the Rose Movie Comparison: Page to Screen Adaptation

05.24.2023 // By Tome Tailor

Umberto Eco’s 1980 novel, The Name of the Rose is a genre-defying masterpiece that masterfully weaves together elements of mystery, historical fiction, and philosophical musings. The book has been widely regarded as a modern classic since its publication, so it was only natural that a film adaptation was produced. The 1986 film of the same name, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Sean Connery, attempts to bring the sprawling, intricate world of the novel to life on screen. Inevitably, the process of adaptation necessitates changes and omissions. This blog post aims to explore some of the key differences between the novel and the film and how they affect the overall narrative.

Plot and Characters

At its core, the plot of both novel and film involves a series of mysterious deaths in a 14th-century Italian monastery that our protagonists, the Franciscan friar William of Baskerville and his novice Adso of Melk, must investigate. However, the film simplifies the plot, eliminating or consolidating several characters and subplots that play important roles in the novel.

For instance, the character of Salvatore (played by Ron Perlman) is a combination of two distinct characters from the novel: Salvatore himself and Remigio of Varagine. While this simplification does streamline the narrative, it also removes some of the complexity that makes the novel so rich. Similarly, the contentious theological disputes between factions within the monastery, which serve as a crucial backdrop to the novel, are reduced in the film to cursory mentions, resulting in a less textured world.

Moreover, the film compresses the novel’s seven-day timeframe into a mere three days. This alteration may have been necessary to fit the story into a two-hour runtime, but it also means that the film lacks the suspense and steadily increasing tension that Eco skillfully constructs as each day brings new revelations and questions.

Theme and Symbolism

The Name of the Rose novel is not just a mystery tale; it uses the investigation as a platform for exploring deeper questions about the nature of knowledge, faith, and the power of the written word. The labyrinthine library at the heart of the monastery, inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’ short story The Library of Babel, serves as a central symbol that connects these themes throughout the book.

While the film does feature some impressive visuals of the library, it does not delve into the thematic depth of Eco’s novel, nor does it completely capture the library’s symbolism. Umberto Eco was not only a successful novelist but also a renowned semiotician; as a result, his novel is rife with subtle clues and signs that can be interpreted in multiple ways. The movie adaptation, however, opts for a more straightforward approach that prioritizes action and tangible solutions to the mystery.

Philosophical and Intellectual Aspects

The film adaptation of The Name of the Rose also loses much of the intellectual and philosophical weight of the novel. The book seamlessly incorporates discussions of theology, philosophy, and medieval history, as well as examining the nature and limits of human understanding, particularly in religious contexts.

While it would be difficult to fully convey the depth and scope of Eco’s intellectual explorations within the constraints of a two-hour movie, the film adaptation regrettably does not even attempt to tackle these aspects. As a result, it loses one of the most compelling aspects of the source material - the complex, challenging questions that Eco raises about the nature of human inquiry, knowledge, and faith.


The 1986 film The Name of the Rose may satisfy viewers who enjoy medieval settings, mystery plots, and Sean Connery’s undeniable screen presence. However, for those who have read and loved the novel, the film might leave them disappointed, as it falls short of capturing the thematic depth, intricate characterizations, and intellectual rigor of Umberto Eco’s work.

If you haven’t yet read the book, don’t let the movie’s shortcomings deter you from experiencing Eco’s brilliant storytelling. The Name of the Rose is a rewarding read that defies easy categorization and offers a rich, multi-layered tale that will leave you pondering long after you’ve closed the book.

Ready to dive into Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose? Click here to purchase the book or audiobook on Amazon and explore the labyrinthine world of the novel for yourself.

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