Normally you wouldn’t think of chick lit as experimental literature, but the interplay between the book and film versions of Bridget Jones’s Diary is so bizarre as to be practically science fiction.
The novel is itself a very loose retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice. That novel is of course the gold standard for pretty much all romantic fiction since then, and Bridget Jones is far from the first to try a more or less modern retelling. Pride and Prejudice itself features the now-legendary Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, who meet, instantly dislike each other, and inevitably fall in love as trying events unfold around them. Bridget Jones features the eponymous heroine, to whom precisely the same thing happens with, well, a Mr. Mark Darcy. (Fitzwilliam is presumably no longer common enough to be a plausible first name)
Call that level 1 of the metafiction – not only is it a retelling, it’s a retelling that’s very explicit about that fact. But that’s just the start; in fact Bridget meets him at a party wherein Mr. Darcy is standing around being standoffish, precisely as in Pride and Prejudice. And Bridget comments on this, pointing out to herself that if one is going to be named Darcy one shouldn’t be standing around standoffishly at parties.
So it’s metafictional, and it’s self-aware. Fair enough, if unusual for the genre. But wheels start to form within wheels when the novel made the transition to film. Bridget’s Darcy is played by Colin Firth. But Colin Firth also played the Jane Austen Mr. Darcy in the definitive BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Call that level 2 of metaficiton.
But in the novel, Bridget Jones is herself a tremendous fan of the BBC adaptation, and watches it with her friends as a salve for the pain of their occasional romantic disasters. At one point (in the book sequel) she actually embarrasses herself with a star-struck interview of Colin Firth about that BBC role. Level 3 in the metafictional onion.
The entire ouroboros comes full circle in the film adaptation of the sequel. Though it’s kept to a special feature, Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones, girlfriend of Mark Darcy (as played by Colin Firth), interviews Colin Firth (as Colin Firth) about his role as Mr. Darcy in the BBC film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, in the context of a story which is itself a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The whole thing is head-spinning.
All this avoids the question of why in the world a red-blooded American male has read Pride and Prejudice, both Bridget Jones books, and seen their respective film adaptations. I have no good excuse, but my bad excuse is anthropological interest and a lovely and charming significant other who’s a fan. Either way it certainly turned out to be a rather more involved knot than I’d have expected.