Friday, April 15, 2016

You make the call

Leading storytelling workshops, I often compared the well-told story -- written or spoken -- to a coloring book; there are guidelines, but you create the details for yourself. A television does most of the work for you; one need not even think, only watch. Some writers are like TVs, but the best ones offer you sovereignty.
Wendy Welch, The Little Bookstore in Big Stone Gap

I like that comparison, stories to coloring books. Movies adapted from novels so often disappoint because the "colors" in the films don't match those in our imaginations when we read the stories. Our minds fill in the blanks one way, while directors fill them differently..

I also like Wendy Welch's use of the word sovereignty. As a reader you have sovereignty, at least some sovereignty, over the stories you read. The better the story, the greater your sovereignty. The best stories have ambiguity and subtlety. You decide what they mean and, in some cases, even what takes place. You also have control over any detail the author chooses not to describe. In terms of what takes place in your mind, reading a story is not at all like watching a story, even if it happens to be the same story.

Yet I think the best movies and television shows, like the best written stories, can offer a degree of sovereignty. They allow some measure of interpretation and choice in the hands of the viewer. A case  in point is the 2013 Indian film The Lunchbox, the subject of a movie discussion I will be leading tonight. The story is about an office worker, soon to retire, who mistakenly each day gets a lunchbox intended for another man. This leads to a series of notes between this man and the much younger woman who packs the lunch.

In the film, the two never come face to face, although they write about running away together. At the end we see the woman, with her daughter, preparing to leave her unfaithful husband, while the man sets out to track her down. Will he get there in time? Will they really go to Bhutan together? Are they even suited for each other in view of their different ages and different religions? It's left to the viewer to decide. And that's just one of the many things the story gives us to talk about tonight.

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