The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Art > Life?

So I'm going through the Blu-ray discs that I bought for my new player. This time it was Stranger Than Fiction. There are spoilers ahead, so read at your own peril.

This movie raises the question: Is art more important than life? That's a biggie. We writers put a high value on our words, but exactly how important are they? If the end result is to permanently change the fabric of society for the better, is it worth a life? The most endearing scene in this movie is the one where Harry reads the manuscript, gives it to Karen, and chooses his death not because he would save a boy's life or be remembered fondly for making such a sacrifice. He did it because that is how this particular story should end.


And the solution? Karen weakens the story and saves Harry because she thought his life was worth more than her masterwork. These scenarios are precisely why I'm drawn to high concept ideas. They take the abstract and make them concrete in a fantasy context. At least the very best ones do anyway. They shed light on ideas in a way that no other story framework can.

Stranger Than Fiction also raises a scary notion for us writer types. If we craft a story where our main character dies, will we be invested enough in this character to feel like we are actually ending a real life? There is a scene after Karen finds out that Harry is real where she is weeping over all the people she has killed in her books. I'd like to be able to say that I was that close to one of my characters.

Is that kind of empathy required of us to write a riveting story? I'm guessing it is required for some writers, but everyone relates to these things in different ways. Or at least that's what I tell myself because I don't know that I'll ever achieve that level of feeling.

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  • At 4:26 PM, Blogger Tavis said…

    I remember William Goldman talking about how he cried when he killed off Wesley in The Princess Bride-- even though he knew he was only "mostly dead."

    However, Justin Zackham-- writer of The Bucket List-- also mentioned that he teared-up as he wrote the climax of that script.

    Two examples. Two very different results.

  • At 9:33 AM, Blogger annabel said…

    That's a great question.

  • At 7:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Stranger still haunts me, I got so into it, after it was over I trembled and could only mutter "wow" for 20 minutes...


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