“Here’s a generation that believed that in order to expand your understanding of the world, you had to live through the experiences that would heighten all your senses,” says Salles. “This was about living all these experiences in the flesh and not vicariously.”
Bringing the novel from page to screen has proven to be a challenge for writers and directors from Barry Gifford and Gus Van Sant to Joel Schumacher and Coppola himself—their attempts all thwarted before completing the transformation. When adapting such breathless prose for the screen, Salles recognized that, “like jazz, where the instrument is an extension of the muscian,” Kerouac had a writing style in which the typewriter was an extension of himself. In order to bring that vitality and energy to life, the film had to have an “impressionistic quality,” keeping the camera close to the actor’s body, aiming to connect the audience with the character’s experience. Salles says he only strayed from the novel in order to stay faithful to Kerouac’s sense of urgency. “We were all conscious that we needed to find something fresh and new every single day in order to be in sync with Kerouac,” he says.