Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Movie characters: Self-Absorbed Whiny Writer Man

Tortured Writer in an empty pub
The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend ~Robertson Davies
There's a lot of different character archetypes in the movies, but perhaps the one that most singly annoys me is that of the Self-Absorbed Whiny Writer Man, or SAWWM. (I just made that up, isn't it catchy?) These narcissistic fools pour over their manuscripts in vain, moaning and obsessing over their muse and seek redemption through her perfect eyes. She is not a person, but a means to salvation. She is not a human being with her own wants and needs, but merely a metaphor for real life: the life of the SAWWM. Are tortured artists incapable of real empathy and appreciating another human without thinking of her in relation to themselves and placing her on a pedestal?

To be fair, I'm not sure of the intentions of the characters' creators. They very well could be saying "Isn't it sooo annoying when a guy acts this way? Let me depict it for you!" But since it's writers writing about... writers, I have trouble believing that it isn't at least a teensy bit autobiographical. Here are three movies (two adapted from books written by.... writers) that feature a SAWWM as the central character. By central, I mean narrator who tries hard to be a passive observer yet secretly wishes the universe revolved around him.

Sophie's Choice
You'd think this would be a movie all about Sophie, right, given the title. Wrong! This is about how a dopey milquetoast writer named Stingo sees Sophie. He makes great analogies from her horrific experiences in a WWII concentration camp to his own struggle with writer's block. See? It's totally the same thing. Just in case you can't tell from this picture, Sophie's not interested in Stingo. He's the one staring off into space, imagining her perfections rather than actually looking at her. It spoils the illusion, you see.

Sex and Lucia
I was excited to watch this titillatingly-titled film, assuming it was about a woman's journey of coming into her own. Wrong! Instead the central figure is her dopey narcissistic and tortured writer boyfriend, Lorenzo. And they meet a totally implausible way. He is a famous writer, and Lucia is a drop dead gorgeous waitress who's fallen madly in love with him since she read his novel. She's taken to stalking him, and confronts him breathlessly in a cafe. Upon their first meeting she explains that she is in love with him and perfect for him. Instead of calling the cops like a smart guy, Lorenzo merely smiles and smokes cigarettes, then soon after proceeds to nail her. Riiiight, guys. This is exactly how it happens. If you write a novel, you will immediately have hot women throwing themselves at you who are mentally sound. You wish, screenwriter man!

Lucia provides inspiration for his stories, but he gets so wrapped up in writing them he begins to neglect their relationship entirely. There's also some complicating factors like the fact that he's a dad with someone else and then lusts after his kid's babysitter. He somehow winds up in bed with her while trying to be as passive as possible. And what are the chances that Lucia's voyage of self-discovery would include a trip to the island where he had a one night stand with the mother of his child? She and the baby mama have a good deal of commiseration, but they never kick Lorenzo to the curb. They even both love him!

The Great Gatsby
Both in the book and on the silver screen, Nick Carraway is completely infatuated with Daisy. She's his second cousin so there's some potential ickiness there. He lacks direction and meaning in his life. And yet again, we have a menage a trois. Nick totally admires Gatsby in a man-crush kind of way and is willing to overlook his fallibility. Yet another writer with no moral turpitude! The plot is convoluted and sad but as the world falls down around Nick by the end of the book, he leaves and goes off back to the Midwest to muse about his time with Gatsby and Daisy. Without, you know, actually doing anything.

In conclusion, avoid these SAWWMs like the plague. They are wrapped up in their own drama and fail to connect with you on an emotional level. They lack the backbone to make decisions for themselves. They blunder through life, poisoning the lives of those around them for the sake of a good story. And who wants a tag-along with his head in the clouds when you already have a significant other?

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