Just a short post to firm up something in my head. I was asked again recently what my screenplay was about. I often give people the logline; when the government targets junkies for genocide, a self-righteous policeman fights to save his drug using sister. This time I said “it’s about the cruelty of prohibition.” I realised today it’s not about the cruelty of prohibition, Carrion is about the fight between freedom and security. The fight between freedom and security is at the core of the war on drugs. Think about the rhetoric of prohibition. War. Protection. Threat. Danger. Safety. They all frame drugs and their users as dangerous. A threat to our way of life. We have to protect ourselves. At the core of peoples desire to take drugs is rebellion. A desire to reject the values of the wider society. To be free. I’ve mentioned this dynamic before when writing about the conflict between Adam and Reiner. Deep down the two men are fighting over the kind of world they are going to live in. Reiner demands a world of security. At the end of the story Adam is fighting for a world of freedom. He doesn’t get it. The fight for freedom has only just begun but the realisation is what brings the end of his journey.
Working on Carrion today I found myself asking the question; why is Adam against drugs? In the story world of Carrion the drug user is the enemy. As a distinct social group they are to Reiner and the prohibitionist what the Jews were to Hitler and the Nazis; “if we did not have them we should have to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy.” (1) They are the outsider. The other. The enemy. The threat that people can be united against. Defeat drugs and the world will be a better place. From Reiner’s point of view the choice to do drugs represents a kind of desire for freedom that poses a direct challenge to the security he craves. This makes Adam’s animosity for drugs more about his desire to be part of something bigger. Which raises the question; if you strip away that belonging would the animosity go with it? Adam wants to be part of something bigger. The price to become part of that something is his sister. Unwilling to pay the piper he is exiled, forced to experience the world thusly. That makes Adam’s animosity towards drugs environmental. It is a learned behaviour that has more to do with his relationship with Christine than some innate hatred of drugs and users.
Some time ago I mentioned throwing out the first act. While working though various ideas about Adam, Christine and Reiner I came across a much stronger inciting event. Basically Adam is forced to make an impossible decision. He is given the opportunity to join the party and progress within the prohibitionist cause but to do so he has to kill Christine. It’s the most provocative inciting event I have managed to find. The problem is choosing it has forced me to reassess what follows. Specifically the events after the refusal. Technically this is the start of Adam’s desire line. But to save Christine he first has to save himself. The problem is the refusal to kill Christine makes him a combatant deep behind enemy lines. He is now a prisoner of war. Which makes the question for next ten minutes of story; how does Adam escape? One way is to have Reiner release him. But Reiner is so hurt by Adam’s refusal, so committed to the prohibitionist cause, that this just wouldn’t happen. A second way is to have Adam fight his way out. But this option is just too obvious. Adam’s character is not combative enough at this point in the story. He has not yet learned to fight prohibition. It contradicts the “not fighting back” immoral actions that underpin his character. A third way is to have him take advantage of events happening within the story world; swarming insect, a riotous mob or sympathetic aggressor. But all of these scenarios have the potential to dilute events later in the story. Overall it needs to be something of relatively low intensity. But what? Time to finish. I will return to this issue in another post.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Christine Leigh. Who she is? What she wants? Why she takes drugs? Christine’s relationship with Adam is the cornerstone of Carrion. She is the reason he goes up against Reiner. Without her Adam would remain inactive, Reiner’s actions would go unchallenged and our view of prohibition would remain inviolate. The story only gets under way when Adam’s desire to save Christine kicks in. But there is a problem with characterising Christine as something that needs to be saved. Certainly it allows Adam to justify arresting her at the beginning of the story but in story terms it has the potential to make her incredibly passive. There is another thing. “Characterising Christine as something that needs to be saved” underestimates or more accurately misrepresents her drug use. Overall it presupposes she is victimised by drugs. Certainly she is persecuted by prohibition. But when I think of her drug use I don’t see her as a victim. The understanding of drug user as victim relies heavily on the popular perception of those who take drugs as damaged individual running away from something. While there are undoubtably a percentage of individuals who fit this profile. I know the vast majority of people who use drugs take them for entirely different reason. If the truth were told there are probably as many reasons for using drugs as there are people who take them. There is also another misconception at play here. One that presumes everyone who takes drugs is an addict. I view this as prohibitionist propaganda. The truth is less hysterical. Just as not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic. Not everyone who takes drugs is an addict. Which brings me back to the question; why does Christine take drugs? The short answer; she is looking for something. If I had to pin it down I’d say she is actually seeking a state of grace. But I don’t think of Christine as a religious person. I think what she seeks is less devine grace and more secular enlightenment. In an earlier post I outlined something of Christine’s character.
Born in 1995. She was two when her brother joined the army. In the years that followed she saw him occasionally. His absence from the family home meant she actually grew up an only child. The sole beneficiary of her parents emotional, physical and financials resources, the constant attention lead to a strong willed girl sensitive to disapproval. Denied competition from a sibling she exhibits a certain possessiveness with her time, space and belongings. Perfectly happy to spend time alone and fiercely loyal, she prefers the company of a few close friends to the superficial connections exhibited by her extrovert peers. (2)
I view Christine’s drug use as her way of connecting to others. It’s not just that she has a small group of friends who are united by a common activity or the feelings of empathy that comes with the use of a drug like ecstasy. I think she uses drugs because she has a deep-rooted need to short circuit the barriers between people. At the core of that need is the barriers she feels between herself and Adam. The flip-side of this need to connect is her great weakness, rebelliousness; that impulse to resist authority, control or convention. All of which raises a question for my next post. What does her desire line look like?
Many of the recent Carrion related posts have had something to do with Anthony Reiner; specifically those character related issues to do with his moral and psychological weakness. In these posts I tried to understand the things that are not only hurting Reiner, his psychological weakness, but are also hurting the people around him, his moral weakness. In the end I realised that Reiner’s moral weakness is his persecution of the drug user; a characteristic implicitly informed by his psychological weakness, an authoritarian personality. What I haven’t addressed so far is Reiner’s need. His need, to paraphrase John Truby, is what he must fulfil within himself in order to have a better life. But I’m having difficulty reconciling Reiner’s need with Adam’s; understanding how their individual needs interact. The story focus of Carrion is Adam. The events of the plot transform him from a self-righteous policeman into what I can only describe as a caring insurgent. I realise that reads like an oxymoron but essentially that’s what he becomes. By the close of the plot he truly cares about Christine. For the first time in their relationship he puts her needs first, even though what she asks from him devastates. From this personal crisis comes his new moral action; he picks up a gun to fight prohibition. The story ends only after he has taken this action, finally making the moral argument against security and for freedom. But what does all this mean when we start to consider Reiner and his need? What must he fulfil within himself in order to have a better life? And how does he argue for security? I think the answer to this question can be found in his authoritarian personality. In “Reiner and the totalitarian mindset” (1) I noted Alfonso Montuori’s characterisation of the totalitarian mindset as a response to the stress of contemporary pluralism. Basically we live in complex times full of uncertainty. We feel threatened. And when we’re backed into a corner we have a tendency to succumb to black-and-white solutions. When I translate this back into Reiner it indicates a course of action that goes something like this. Adam’s refusal to kill Christine at the end of the first act turns Reiner’s reality upside down. Until this point he considered Adam a protege and so perceives his refusal to kill Christine as nothing short of a treasonous betrayal. He finds the chaos of Adam’s refusal intolerable. He has a psychological need to restore order, return Adam to the fold. Unable to do this he has a moral need to destroy him. His attempts to enforce prohibition are his attempts to make the moral argument against freedom and for security. The punch, counter-punch of antagonist and protagonist play out as Adam and Reiner fight over the kind of world they will live in. In the end Reiner’s argument for security is crushed by Adam’s argument for freedom. If this were Reiner’s story instead of Adam’s, the argument for security would crush the argument for freedom. One final thing. At some point in the not too distant future I will have to turn all of this conjecture into a screenplay but until I’m clear about each character that seems like a folly. Expect more conjecture.
Today’s Carrion contemplation has me pondering the question; how does Adam change? In a previous post I noted that Adam shares the totalitarian mindset of prohibition; he acts in self-righteous manner towards Christine. In another I laid out a new inciting event that forces him into direct conflict with Reiner; he refuses to kill Christine at his initiation ceremony. But this event doesn’t suddenly change him, he’s still the prohibitionist policeman, it simply forces him to take the first step towards something else. The stepping stones of his eventual transformation are the subsequent conflicts of the story. Adam and Reiner go at it as each tries to win the goal, they fight over the kind of world will they live in; will it be a world of security or one of freedom? But their punch counter-punch confrontation is essentially a repetition of the same position played out with increasing intensity. Nothing wrong with that? But it doesn’t explain how Adam learns the right way to live in the world. It doesn’t explain how a foreclosed identity such as his, formed around the prohibitionist cause, is transformed into an identity personal to him, an identity willing to choose freedom. (1) That insight comes, I think, from the conflicts he has with other characters. Each character/conflict forces him to deal with things in a different way. Think of it like this. If Reiner is the motor of Adam’s change, the other characters steer him. Each character deals with the problem of the story in a different way. For example Michiko, the disgraced doctor, is compassionate towards Christine. Sexton, the radical drug dealer, refuses to submit to prohibition. Each encounter forces Adam to learn something new, understand himself and the world differently. So at the end, when he battles prohibition, he knows how he wants to live in the world and what he must do. He knows how to show Christine true compassion, even if that compassion means helping her to kill herself. He knows how to deal with Reiner, even if that means throwing him to the insects. And he knows how to deal with prohibition, even if that means picking up a gun a fighting it. One final thought. Something I think I learned while writing this. We don’t change. Other people change us.
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.
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.
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?
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.