There are a few movies that I can watch over and over again and I caught a part of one of those today with my daughter who is home sick with a pretty nasty cold. We settled down on the bed and channel surfed until we fell upon one particular favorite. It was near the end, but I love it so much we stopped and watched it anyway.
The movie is all about this slightly dim, but lovable guy who discovers that his whole life has been a lie and that he is the subject of a TV reality show. We started watching where our protagonist, Truman, comes to the conclusion that there is no way to escape except by sail boat. (His biggest fear being water.) By now you've probably guessed that we were watching, The Truman Show. You're brilliant. Really.
Jim Carrey gives an amazing performance in this wonderfully written script, doesn't he? Anyway, as Truman attempts to escape in the boat, the director, or "father figure" above, whose watchful eyes are impossible to escape, turns the storm up to an insane level that would appear unsurvivable. At first, Truman taunts the powers that be to "pump up the juice" so to speak, which the man upstairs-- obsessed with the story and with Truman's hellbent desire to survive--obliges. The waves crash over Truman, sending him overboard while the whole world watches, glued to their television sets, cheering him on with tears, screams, and broken shower curtains. It's insane, but it makes for good TV and the director knows it. Just when it seems like Truman is done for, the director, with perfect timing, calms the storm, and Truman, soaked and shivering, but with a look of wonder on his face, climbs back on board. The music rises, the camera cuts from Truman, to the director, to the people watching, to the sky and back to Truman who appears to be reborn. The clouds part, the sun begins to shine, Truman, realizing he made it through the storm, see's life differently now.
My daughter said, "I love this part." I agreed and felt tears sting the corners of my own eyes. Darn that Jim Carrey and the beautiful music of Phillip Glass!
Then like a slap, or an abrupt slam on the brakes, what might be called the boom of the boat rips dramatically through an invisible wall, poking a huge hole in the illusion that is his life. The music stops, the crowd stares open mouthed. To finish out the story watch the clip below as everyone roots for him to find the stairs that will take him out to the real world. Anticlimactically, people turn off their TV's and look for something else to do. The end.
As I watched, I was reminded of an interview on Charlie Rose recently with Ethan Hawke. He was talking about how difficult it can be as an actor to make things beautiful in a scene that would be particularly difficult in real life. He was talking about working with Robin Williams and with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and the toll it takes on real people to make something that looks real, but isn't. Great artists both of them, by the way. The difference between movies and real life is that real life is not pretty. It's rough and scratchy and regular. It doesn't always end well, and never with an award winning score tied to the dramatic scenes. The good guy dies early or worse, stops being the good guy for a bit. Families fall apart, people get fat and old, and seldom do we truly forgive and love others, much less ourselves. And rarely do miracles happen just at the right time. Real life lacks the grace of a movie.
Hawke remembers Williams doing a big scene in Dead Poets Society, (Another favorite of mine) and when the scene was over, everybody headed for the craft services table, but Robin sat on a chair, his head down, totally depleted. Hawke said, "It comes with a price, this ability to take the harshness of real life and make it pretty and inspiring." Wrapped up in a climatic bow.
You write a story. You take someone on a dramatic journey that will change their life and you need to do it in about 300 pages or so. There's a math equation to this. We see the same thing done over and over again, and if they follow the rules it should have all the marks of a good story.
This makes me think about my own life. Let's be real. I am definitely rough around the edges. Sometimes, I'm not the hero but the antagonist. Sometimes, I hate myself for the things I do or don't do. Sometimes, I doubt the miracles will come and want to quit trying. Sometimes, I am on top of the world with endless enthusiasm. Sometimes, I am proud of myself. Some days are boring. Some are stressful. Some are fun. Especially those where I get to dance! Some I'd be ashamed for anyone to see. But so far none of it has followed this 300 page screenplay rule of thumb.
And that's why I like stories, and movies in particular. I like to see a beginning, a middle, and an end. I like to see loose strings tied up neatly at just the right time. I like to see courageous people doing something well, courageous. I like to see the girl get the guy and vice versa. I like that everyone is beautiful and funny and they say the right thing at just the right time, not like me where I think of it two hours later and snap my fingers in frustration that I didn't say "that!" instead. I like that I can disappear from my own struggles for a couple of hours and live sympathetically in someone else's life for a bit. I like to cry at the sound of a violin piercing my heart with its haunting melody or the triumphant chords of an entire symphony pushing me forward to battle. Sometimes I want to cry, "Charge!" as I climb into my Suburban horse and roll down my window so the wind can whip through my hair as I march down the road to meet my foes. "Call me Joan of Ladyhawk Lane." I cry into the wind.
And then I go to the grocery store and pick up a frozen lasagne and a chocolate bar.
But in the end real life trumps movie life. Why? Because it's real. Because each one of us gets a piece of the action. We get to do the growing. It's so hard sometimes, but our rough edges are slowly smoothed out with each chapter of our story.
I hope my story is a long one. I hope it has a few miracles and surprises in store. I hope it has you in it. My family and friends far and near that have touched my life in so many different ways. I hope it's got some good comedy, but mostly, I hope it has a happy ending. I really love a good ending.
PS-- Book is on target. Publishing date to be announced very soon!