I heard this quote last week, "A story, when it's working well, is an answer to the question 'how should I live my life.'" It's a pretty elegant way of summing up all the do's and don'ts of screenwriting. I should mention that this entry is a bit of an experiment. Last month I had back surgery and I woke up this morning with a nasty back ache -- something that I thought was a part of the past. Anyhow, long story short, my doctor says it's most likely a muscle spasm due to all the coughing and sneezing of my recent cold and he's prescribed Valium as a muscle relaxant. I'm on it right this instant! It's fabulous. This, however is not an answer to the question how should I live my life now. This is what I call "the damage."
Every protagonist, at the start of their journey has some sort of "damage" that will be healed over the course of the journey. My damage, my latest medical catastrophe, is symptomatic of some sort of personal ambition for thrill seeking that drives me to take physical risks that often result in injury.
For example: Age 12, I thought it would be fun to ride on a pump-jack. (That's one of those pumps one sees in oil fields that looks kind of like a horse with a bobbing head.) Anyhow, it was not fun -- especially when I fell off and nearly lost my right leg in the gear mechanisms that power the hydraulics.
Or at age 20 when I thought it would be fun to go for a walk in my old neighborhood at 1 in the morning. Anyone can tell you that Miami is not safe. You'd be safer in downtown Tehran wearing a star of David bikini and gay pride rainbow tube top. Anyhow, I wound up getting stabbed a bunch of times.
Or at 38 when I got really into bicycling and decided that it would be reasonable to replace my car with a really fast road bike. Guess how that worked out.
Or most recently when I thought I'd get back in shape following the two years of recovery from the massive fracture of my left arm only to throw out my back at the gym which resulted in me having to have surgery to fix a herniated disc.
So the question is, if my damage is I'm this person who keeps chasing after some kind of ideal, but in the process keeps hurting himself, how am I supposed to live my life now? What's the movie that I need to see that answers this question. I'm thinking it's "The Wrestler" but I don't really like how that ended for him. Doomed to die a death of a thousand cuts (a dead end job and a withering of his dreams) or go out in a blaze of glory. Are my only options that bleak?
So what's your damage and who do you need to be to be whole again or for the first time? So often the answer is not what you want, but what you need.
The Wrestler need not go out in a blaze of glory were he willing to dig in and make some fundamental life changes. Like he'd have to go to a bunch of therapy and maybe take up pilates or some kind of meditation practice. Given time he might repair some of the damage with his daughter. He might come to respect himself enough to seek appropriate relationships from emotionally available women. But that movie sounds really boring.
I guess for me to live out that kind of movie, I'd have to re-evaluate my notion of boring. Is it possible to make "healthy" interesting?
Yeah. My other favorite film of late "The Savages" is all about that. It's about a woman on a self destructive path who in dealing with her dying father comes to a new understanding about the significance of her life. She learns to love herself as is -- not a super successful playwright but rather a temp who is able to put on a play in a community theater space. Not the desired woman of a distant lover, but the owner of an affectionate and loyal dog. No longer seeking the love of a father who will never be capable of appreciating her, but accepting of love from her true friends and family. So in that regard, "healthy" can be interesting.
A story, when it is working, is an answer to the question, "how do I live my life now?"