Tying it all together 2
Posted January 1, 2011on:
The astute reader will have noticed that I’m not doing these posts in order, or even on a schedule. Sorry about that, but as a pantser I write when the mood strikes. It doesn’t help that I’ve been sick these past few days. Today I think I’ll talk about a fabulous film called Grand Canyon. (I just turned my head and there it was on my DVD rack. Decisions, decisions!) Be aware, there are spoilers ahead.
I’m not really much of a one for dramas. As a fantasist I tend to go for fantasy movies, superhero stories, Godzilla, monsters, ghosts, weird stuff, and of course comedies. To be honest I like my endings happy and dramas often have sad, tragic, or ‘life goes on’ sorts of endings that I really don’t want to see. I’d much rather watch Grosse Pointe Blank than War Inc., even though they both have John Cusack. The only other dramas I have in the whole rack are Casablanca (which, let’s face it, is Casablanca), Topsy Turvy, about the making of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado, and a small film called Off the Map which I got mainly because I had just released a short story of my own called Off the Map and was curious. They do not, strangely, have anything in common.
Anyway, Grand Canyon is as one would expect, a simply fabulous story. It would have to be to get on my shelf. It’s an ensemble piece with some of the best actors in Hollywood, playing characters who are very little connected with each other except through the main character, a lawyer named Mack (played by Kevin Kline, whom I have have enjoyed since I saw him in Pirates of Penzance years ago), who makes a wrong turn. The whole film is about wrong turns, turns that lead to a dark and unexplored place, where the person doing the turning has to make a choice. These turns are literally life-changing.
Mack’s turn leads him into danger, from which he is rescued by the appearance of a tow-truck driver. Mack’s choice is whether or not to maintain any kind of relationship with this total stranger who has literally pulled him out of the mess he’s made. A chance meeting with his secretary’s friend leads him to introduce the friend to the driver for no other reason than that they are probably the only black people he knows. The driver’s family lives in a very dangerous neighborhood, and Mack, an immigration lawyer, is instrumental in getting them out of there and into a better life elsewhere.
Another thread of the story follows Mack’s wife, who is feeling a little less than needed by just about everyone. Until the day she turns down a side road during her morning jog and chances upon an abandoned baby. Her choice, whether to turn the baby over to the authorities and forget her, or to try for custody.
There is an element of tragedy in the film, of course, rendered beautifully by Steve Martin, normally a comic actor. He makes a wrong turn, arguing with a thief who shoots him in the leg and steals his watch. A film-maker who specializes in low-budget violent action flicks, he’s given the choice of making brighter more hopeful films, a choice he turns away from. His final scene, as the stage booms shut on his own personal Hell, is devastating.
There are numerous other roles in this film, all with choices offered although the choice made is not shown.
The imagery of the film is especially powerful. Not only the soundstage door, but the helicopter that is everywhere, the observer, the transition from one scene to the next. Another messenger from the gods is a homeless man, who mutters key things at key moments. A pair of back-to-back dream sequences: Mack in his moment of choice, flying over the city, followed by his wife in a moment of choicelessness, as everything in her life seems to be leaving her.
I had something of an epiphany writing this post, as it occurred to me that Grand Canyon is probably the only story I know which is even remotely similar to my own novel St. Martin’s Moon. Both are about a single man who sets events in motion among large numbers of relative strangers, and the consequences. In Grand Canyon the plot threads do not tie together, though. No neat and tidy endings here.