Monthly Archives: February 2013

Throwing out the first act

Finishing my last post brought with it something of a revelation about Carrion, an insight that means I’ll be throwing out the first act; at least those scenes involving Adam and Reiner. The ideas for the change bubbled up after a lot of research about Reiner’s totalitarian mindset. I’ve been concerned since the outset of this draft with the action that puts Adam in conflict with Reiner. The idea that I’ve been working with to date has his relationship with Christine provide the substance of the conflict that pits the two men against each other. But I’ve never really been happy with how that scenario plays out. The inciting event simply wasn’t strong enough. It doesn’t explain Adam’s decision to put his self-righteous attitudes to one side and save Christine. Neither does it explain the vitriol Reiner has for Adam. What I’ve really been looking for is something that serves two functions. First it has to force Adam to land definitively on Christine’s side. Second it has to make an absolute enemy of Reiner. I think I’ve found the solution in the hierarchical structure of the totalitarian regime. Reiner is member of the regimes inner circle. He puts his standing on the line when he sponsors Adam’s induction. The price of Adam’s admission is Christine. In a proving ceremony reminiscent of a scene from Eyes Wide Shut Adam has to kill Christine. When he refuses, he not only puts himself on the wrong side of the regime, he also makes a mortal enemy of Reiner. Adam is cast out, throw into a cell with Christine and John, condemn to suffer the fate of all junkies in the coming genocide. This changed scenario brings with it an inciting event that kick-starts the story. It allies him with Christine but still allows her to be an opponent. It gives Reiner a character specific reason to hate Adam. It also mirrors the final battle, resonating against Adam’s choice to help Christine commit suicide. Hope that all makes sense. This really is me thinking out loud.

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Inciting Adam

While writing about Reiner’s authoritarian personality (1) I noted the polarisation of freedom and security. Adam and Reiner’s conflict, at it’s deepest level, is a fight over the kind of world they will live in; “will it be a world ruled by freedom or one ruled security?” If Adam is to have a better life at the end of Carrion he has to reject the world of security demanded by Reiner and make a positive choice for freedom. The seed of this decision is sowed in the stories inciting event. Adam has to do something at this critical juncture of the story that, to quote John Truby, “causes the hero to come up with a goal and take action.” The difficulty I have is that Adam and Reiner are part of the same tribe. They are policemen in a totalitarian state that has built it’s identity on attacking drug users. Adam at some level shares this totalitarians mindset. He couldn’t be a policeman if he didn’t. So what would make him question the orthodoxy? If part of the totalitarian mindset that Adam is part of is the authoritarian personality exemplified by Reiner, an individual willing to belittle himself so he can, as part of something greater, become great himself; what would startle Adam out of that delusion? My gut tells me the only thing powerful enough to force that kind of revelation in Adam, is a direct attack on Christine. Whatever self-righteous stance he might take against her drug use, she’s still his sister, the only remaining member of his family. Whatever he believes at the beginning of the story, when she is attacked, he would feel compelled to save her. At present the inciting event happens as Reiner attacks a surrogate for Christine. Adam gets a call from Christine as Reiner beats the surrogate to a pulp. Reiner’s action and Christine’s plee for help prompt Adam to abandon his post and go to help Christine. I have the feeling that this is only the proverbial straw that breaks the camels back. The attack on Adam would need to be more sustained before he finally reject Reiner. Perhaps the key is in the symbiotic tendency of the authoritarian personality, in the idea of the tyrannical father who torments his wife but is subservient to his superiors, those closer to the inner circle? Perhaps Reiner uses Christine against Adam; he has to choose Christine or Reiner. Instinct tells me that’s actually the choice Adam has to make in the final battle. The last stepping stone that gets him to the freedom side of the river. What I’m looking for is the first stepping stone on that journey. I’m sure it has to be a direct attack on Christine. Reiner makes a move against Christine, which forces Adam to step in. His instinctive response to save Christine puts him in direct conflict with Reiner. With this choice made I now have to go back and restructure the first thirty five minutes of the plot. Good job I’m not already half way through a draft. Moral of this post. Plan. Plan. Plan.

Chained

chainedI don’t review films very often. I watch so  many I’d do nothing else if I were to write a review for each of them. But I liked Jennifer Lynch’s latest feature so much I felt compelled to make comment. Chained is quite possibly the best film I’ve seen so far this year. I’m a big fan of Vincent D’Onofrio and this is him at his best. It’s like watching Private Pile’s resurrected brother taking his rifle (knife) out for some fun. There’s menace in those eyes and the way he holds his shoulder that permeates to the form of the words that come from his mouth. Every sinew of his on screen being sweats threat. D’Onofrio reminds me a little of the late Chris Penn. And a little like Mr Penn, if he lost a little weight the cinema going majority might realise that he is actually Robert DeNiro in his prime. Eamon Farren is emotionally engaging as the victimised Rabbit who despite all that is thrown at him desperately clings to a overwhelmed humanity. A huge chunk of the credit for the films success has to go to Ms Lynch, who true to her pedigree keeps you engaged to the end. Just when you think you have the measure of the story, the characters, where it’s all going, she takes a skull cracking left turn that’s as shocking as it is poignant.

Reiner’s authoritarian personality

In my two previous posts I tried to pin down the totalitarian mindset. What is it that makes Reiner such a vitriolic exponent of prohibition? That enquiry prompted me to uncovered Reiner’s moral and psychological weakness. Those things that are hurting not only himself, his psychological weakness, but also the people around him, his moral weakness. Reiner’s moral weakness is his persecution of the drug user; a characteristic implicitly informed by his psychological weakness, an authoritarian personality. The realisation that Reiner has an authoritarian personality fits perfectly with the standing I have for him in my head but ignorance forces me to ask; what is an authoritarian personality? I found a good answer in Erich Fromm‘s 1957 article “The Authoritarian Personality” (1). Fromm defines the authoritarian personality as an inability; “the inability to rely on one’s self, to be independent, to put it in other words: to endure freedom.” I am struck by this phrase “to endure freedom.” At the core of the conflict between Adam and Reiner is the polarisation of freedom and security. As John Truby points out “a true opponent not only wants to prevent the hero from achieving his desire but is competing with the hero for the same goal.” (2) On first inspection the two men have completely different goals. Adam needs to save Christine. Reiner wants to destroy all drug users. On the surface their desires are different. But after a great deal of reflection I realised the two men are actually fighting over the kind of world they will live in; what kind of world will survive, will it be a world ruled by freedom or one ruled security? If Adam is to have a better life at the end of Carrion he must choose freedom to the exclusion of that demanded by Reiner. For Reiner freedom always exceeds to security. The security of the nation. The security of belonging to something greater. The security of the mindset that accepts the logic of the ruler and the ruled. Exploring the digression a little further I am struck by the torturous state of mind that Reiner must suffer if freedom is something that has to be endured. The freedoms implicit in the choice to take drugs must be physically painful for Reiner. Which gives an indication of the depth his hostility for drug users goes and why he is compelled to correct the imbalance with violence. That said Reiner’s inability to endure freedom is not the whole story. Fromm’s description of the authoritarian character is more detailed. More detailed than it is possible to detail here. But if it were applied to Reiner, he would be described as an immature personality who “can neither love nor make use of reason.” Reiner feels alone. And gripped by fear he needs to feel a bond with something greater. A bond he finds “in the symbiotic relationship, in feeling-one with others; not by reserving his own identity, but rather by fusing, by destroying his own identity.” His adherence to the prohibitionist cause is a subconscious desire to be part of a larger unit. What Fromm might describe as “masochistic and submissive character aims” has Reiner belittle himself so he can, “as part of something greater… become great himself.” But Reiner’s “passive-authoritarian” can only survive by connecting with the figure of an “active-authoritarian.” A character type who, I now realise, is missing from Carrion. He is present in the abstract, in the form of a government, in the “Code-10” laws that seek to marginalise the drug user but as a tangible character that Reiner has to look up to, has to submit to, he’s missing. This is something that needs to be rectified if the story world of Carrion is to work. It’s a mistake on my part to think Reiner can function without this figure. Finally I think it would also be a mistake to understand Reiner as an entirely passive. Inherent in the notion of the active and passive authoritarian is the notion of hierarchy. Reiner’s masochistic desire to be ruled also comes with a sadistic desire to rule. It’s part of the symbiotic tendency inherent in the authoritarian personality and goes some way to codifying the relationship between Adam and Reiner at the beginning of Carrion. Fromm likens this characteristic to the tyrannical father “who treats his wife and children in a sadistic manner but when he faces his superior in the office he becomes the submissive employee.” Reiner treats Adam in a sadistic manner but in his dealings with his boss is submissive. Put simply he’s a bully. I’m sure that Reiner’s desire to dominate Adam plays a part in Adam’s rejection of Reiner but the exact nature of his choice eludes me at the moment. In the story world of Carrion, where the totalitarian mindset is all pervasive, what makes Adam step back and pause for thought? Perhaps the simple act of hesitation puts him at odds with Reiner? He can smell the scepticism on Adam which is enough to elicits the wrath of the pedant in Reiner. Adam’s “rebellion” cuts Reiner to the quick in the same way freedom is something he has to endure?

Reiner and the totalitarian mindset

As I wrote yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Adam’s main opponent Anthony Reiner. Specifically I’ve been struggling to understand what makes Reiner such a willing exponent of prohibition? As I pondered in the comments of my previous post; “I’m trying to figure out the mechanism of his adherence to the cause. Why does he react so violently to Adam’s need to save Christine?” (1) Reading back though yesterdays post I realise now that Reiner reacts to Adam’s decision to help Christine as a betrayal of the cause. A reaction rooted in Reiner’s totalitarian mindset. A mindset that has no tolerance for ambiguity. When he encounters the kind of complexity offered by Adam’s willingness to help Christine he tries to impose his pre-existing frames of reference on the decision, reducing it to an us or them ultimatum. Going back to Alfonso Montuori paper “How to make enemies and influence people” (2) it’s interesting to note the kind of personality the totalitarian mindset attracts. Consistent attempts to suppress “complexity through maladaptive simplicity is characteristic of the closed-mindedness of the authoritarian personality.” (3) Montuori’s characterisation of the totalitarian mindset as an authoritarian personality fits perfectly with description I have in my head of Reiner. For Reiner ambiguous situations cause anxiety. A stress he copes with by adhering to “a clear set of rules and regulations… imposed by whoever is in charge.” (4) While this might be described by John Truby as his psychological weakness. A weakness that Truby defines as hurting only himself. It doesn’t describe his moral weakness. The weakness that is hurting at least one other person. It is clear to me now that Reiner’s moral weakness is explicit in his framing of drug users as an external threat. As Montuori notes “the perception of an out-group as a threat and an enemy is the glue that holds this (totalitarian) mindset together.” (5) A distinction that’s at the very core of Carrion. In this fiction, as in reality, drug users are universally defined as a threat; blamed for everything from social unrest to criminality. The prohibitionist routinely reduces our understanding of the drug issue to a simple black and white choice; “if we sort out the drug problem everything will be all-right.” In Carrion the threat from users becomes even more acute when they are attacked by the insects. But it’s no coincidence that the government are behind the release of the insects. It serves two functions. First it’s an attack on the drug using population; it unites people against an identifiable enemy. Second it creates a crisis that allows drug users to be targeted for persecution. In Carrion the drug user is not only a threat to public order, now he’s a threat to public health. A threat that needs to dealt with in the expedient (read harshest) terms possible. Although it’s interesting to remember that when Hitler was asked whether he thought Jews should be annihilated he replied no. If we didn’t have them “we should have to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one.” (6) In trying to answer the question; what makes Reiner such a willing exponent of prohibition? It has become apparent to me that Reiner’s willingness to persecute drug users, in Trubian story telling terms, is his moral weakness, a manifestation of totalitarian mindset that is embedded in the authoritarian personality that is his psychological weakness. Now all I have to do is work out his need; what he “must fulfil within himself in order to have a better life.” (7) But that will have to wait for another post.

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