“It happens”

"The Kids Are All Right"
Written by Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko,
directed by Cholodenko.

A lady married to another lady has a swing with a guy. The guy happens to be a sperm donor whose “goods” both ladies used way back to get pregnant. The key word here is “happens.”

The lightness and the speed of the story, its charming, California light bathed characters are deliciously vulnerable, vaguely self aware of their shortcomings yet unable to successfully conquer them, in short they are us, seen through the emphatic writing and directing lenses.

The character work done by the creators and the actors is of such a caliber that it is not the externality of the persons on the screen (for example their sex orientation) that drives their development. Rather it is the characters’ inner psychological struggles with their own growth or the lack of it (which we all can relate to) that makes the heart of this storytelling.

Strangely enough (or not, since what follows is a classic recipe for good writing) this universal dimension is achieved largely because the story told is the story lived: the co-writer and the co-writer/director explore their own issues and experiences in the script.

The anecdotical devise of the marital cheat “happens” to involve the guy who eighteen years earlier or so anonymously donated sperm and who now, tracked down by the resulting kids, meets the mothers and goes nuts over one of them. She does too. However the fact that he is the father of her kid is of secondary importance. What’s most pressing is their mutual inner void and vulnerability, coupled with physical attraction. That’s at least what I saw on the screen and what I heard as the explanations for this plot maneuver given by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg at the Creative Screenwriting Podcast conducted by Jeff Goldsmith.

The way the filmmakers treat the reasons for the fling’s attraction is the key to the tone of the story. The woman sees a man. The fact that he is the (anonymous) sperm donor/the father of her child does not trigger any “mystery of the DNA”, "oh God, he is the father of my child" fascination. Such approach could have possibly resulted in a take on the story bordering on philosophical ruminations - still potentially remaining a comedy. And it would not have to be pretentious: image what Woody Allen or Charlie Kaufman would do with such a concept.

The Cholodenko/Blumberg take however purposely keeps the events and the motivations of the characters south of “profound”. The characters struggles with their overwhelming weaknesses are enough to fuel a satisfying narrative and keep us glued to the screen. After all, in our daily lives we first encounter our own character limitations and only then rarely (if ever) become aware of the underlying metaphysical or evolutionary dimensions of our existence.


chemical in your brain

"127 hours" A film by Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy, James Franco

OMG! What a film!

“Free Blood” sets up the “narcotic” vibe with their furious “Never Hear Surf Music Again” and the story that follows keeps up the mad pace and never releases its grip. This pace keeping is by itself already amazing considering that the film is about an immobilized man. How do you tell a story of a guy who can’t move? As an action flick. Naturlich! The structure resembles an hour-glass shape (a clever poster): from the “in your face” universal opening crowds montage through a singular ordeal zeroed in on a rock in the middle of the canyon slot we go back to the universal, because as “Free Blood” sings:

There must be some fucking chemical
(Chemical in your brain)
That makes us different from animals
(Makes us all the same)

Danny Boyle (whom previously I disregarded - both “Trainspotting” and “Slumdog Millionaire” plainly bored me) here grabbed me by the throat and forced to follow his storytelling exactly as he designed it. (I got that after hearing him and Simon Beaufoy talk with Jeff Goldstein on the Screenwriting Magazine podcast). To so effectively create a racing visual story about an immobilized fellow takes extraordinary skills. I came out of the movie theater shaken to the bone (no pun intended - for those who know the pivotal scene).

Some critics say the storytelling is manipulative and cynical forcing upon the viewer notions of guilt and redemption of Aron Ralston. I didn’t get that this way at all. My understanding of the film was that whatever happened to the hero happened because “shit happens”. The misfortune wasn’t brought by Ralston's shortcomings as a human being. It just happened. Granted, he did not leave a message where he was going and so nobody was able to help him, but, from a dramatic point of view, that was to keep the guy alone, and in reality it was everyday carelessness of being already high on his drug (as most of us are most of the time anyway). The scenes from his past were most likely the reaction of the psyche to the horrifying predicament. They were triggered by the “If I hadn’t only....” mechanism, more the result of the horror of the entrapment and not a court case for the reasons of the misfortune.

Misfortunes are around us. When they strike we usually react by “why me”. That’s why the filmmakers take this aspect and magnify it to the limits by the music video opening. It clearly says “it’s about all of us, folks”, “we are all drugged one way or the other”, “his kick is the outdoor sport, what’s yours?”

The second psychological mechanism of a misfortune is the already mentioned “if I only had not ...” We seek in our past justification for what befalls upon us. Sometimes shit happens with a reason, sometimes not. In case of Aron Ralston, we really don’t know the reasons. A transcendental intelligence maybe knows it. Not Ralston. Certainly not Danny Boyle.

I feel Boyle just tries to get inside the hero’s mind and recreate the “if I only had not...” mechanism. Accusing him of cruelty and manipulation and of feeding off some “gore porno” tendency does not in my opinion have any grounds. His work is light years away from such exploitation flicks like for example “The hostel” (that was a morally bankrupt film!) The final act in "127 hours" is not redemption (for some previous sins), but the result of fighting for once’s life and being strong enough and focused enough to win. On the other hand, films are individual, magical encounters and everyone should be free to experience them in a singular, original way. One man’s poison is another man’s medicine.

Vibrancy is one of the words Danny Boyle stresses when discussing the film. He indeed keeps the story alive. Is it the two DP units of (as he stresses) equal status that add energy to the storytelling? Not to mention a virtuoso direction itself, a very precise script and of course an amazing actor. Simon Beaufoy talks about the virtue of speed (not that speed!) in orchestrating a movie going experience. When he teaches screenwriting he makes his students to write a script in (if I remember well) three weeks. He explains that “what is missing in structure and depth is compensated by energy and drive”. Something like this says Werner Herzog when he talks about editing. Judging by their work the guys are right. (How come I struggle for a year with the editing of an hour long sociological documentary? That’s a rhetorical question I do not even wish to start answering here.)

Anyway, “127 hours” is a paean to the human spirit, an uncompromising invitation to participate in a brutal (but screen safe) experience that through its extremes reiterates with full gusto what it means to be alive. Or as “Free blood” sings in the motto:

"Take it if it makes you numb
Take it if it make you come
Take it if it makes you naked
Take it!"