Saturday, January 21, 2006
Empathy Vs. Intellect, the Writer's Curse and the Function of Art
More Notes on Leland
The film makes some interesting comments on writing, as way to get to the truth, and sometimes a way to evade the truth. Leland’s father, Fitzgerald, has drawn all the “truth” out of life for his books, leaving nothing for living, and nothing for his son. He is the one who is most responsible for Leland’s crime (besides Leland himself of course).
The film suggest that the real reason for writing is to work something out, to reach a better understanding of life, and to express some of the sadness of living. Exactly what Hoge has done by writing his movie. The false reason is to gratify and exalt the ego, and as a way of disconnecting from one’s feelings by taking retreat in intellectuality, the opposite of empathy, which is Leland’s “curse” (and gift).
What Leland does by his terrible act is force people to look at the sadness of their lives, to go beyond the surface for a time and not to hide from it. The murder brings things to light. Maybe it’s a release for his victim (we will never know), but it’s definitely a release for everyone else. Exactly what Leland does unknowingly, Hoge’s film does knowingly.
Art can help us detach from our sadness or it can help us to feel it. Both functions are valid, but of the two, the latter is harder for a work of art to achieve.
By facing up to the sadness and accepting it, it is possible to move beyond it. Sorrow is what allows for compassion and kindness. Goodness is not possible without first accepting sorrow. As Leland says, We’re afraid of what’s good in us, because if we took responsibility for it, we’d realize we could be good all the time. It’s easier to be bad, to feel bad, and to opt for numbness over pain.
Both Leland the boy, and Leland the film, aspire to the shock of beauty, to communicate to the audience/world a jolt that will open its heart and let the loving energy/emotion flow, cleansing us. The Don Cheadle character aspires to be, but isn’t, a writer. In the end, writing is a false path for him: he is just struggling to be a decent person. The film hinges around him, as he is the only one who really learns from the experience, who will be changed and improved by Leland’s crime.
Leland is a writer. He has the gift of vision and an ability to express it. But it comes too late, once he has already succumbed to the pressure inside him and committed his irrevocable act. His writing can no longer save him, but it can at least communicate the truth to another person. This, in the end, is enough. We know that, because of all this, the Cheadle character will treasure what is good (both in himself and in others) in a way that he never could have before. Hence good comes out of an evil act.