In 1890, Emile Zola published a book called La Bête Humaine. The novel is essentially a psychological thriller whose story features three very dynamic characters: a train station master Roubaud, his wife Séverine, and her lover Jacques Lantier. The conflict that ensues is one of murder and deceit – and the motivations of the characters are similarly unclear and compromised. Therefore, this story can potentially be interpreted in multiple ways, providing important political commentary for their receiving audiences. It follows that when a series of film adaptations re-created the story on screen, they did so in drastically different ways. Two particular adaptations did this especially effectively: La Bête Humaine (1938), a French film directed by Jean Renoir; and Human Desire (1954), a film directed in Chicago by Austrian director Fritz Lang. Although both films are based on the same novel, each has marked differences from the novel and from one another. Both representations of the novel are informed by the political climate of their respective time periods. Renoir’s adaptation was influenced by the destruction and corruption of WWII in France, while Lang’s shows clear traces of the effects of McCarthyism in the United States.
Acks, Reillie, "The Politics of Film Adaptation in Zola’s La Bête Humaine" (2013). Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE). 192.