Every now and then, an artist in some medium will come along to remind us about what really matters. Today, AoSHQ co-blogger “The James Madison” highlights one such artist:
Listening to [Australian film director Peter] Weir in interviews, I find it hard not to really like the guy. He’s soft-spoken, unassuming, and very intelligent, and he makes the assertion that he’s really just out to tell “a good tale”. Well, bollocks, I say. William Wyler was out to just tell a good tale. Weir, though, has a very strong theme and series of motifs running through his work to the point where you think it’s intentional. As a writer, I can say that I recognize my own themes in my books, but they just end up being stories I’m interested in telling that I unconsciously mold into stories that speak to what I want to say about the world. I don’t think Weir was intentionally bending stories to his own worldview, just that it was a natural effect of most creatives.
Anyway, I’d distill his work into a phrase: “human connections in systems that discourage it.” That seems generic and a bit glib because I have to generalize to a certain point because the “human connections” end up being of such variety, and the “systems” end up being of such variety, that you have to step a bit back at that level.
Exactly. Weir grasped the essence of fiction. Fiction is about people and the ways they interact:
- With other people;
- With their own pasts, presents, and emotions;
- With events and challenges from the world around them.
Peter Weir isn’t widely known despite his excellent films. Probably Master and Commander is his best-known work…and despite its brilliance, financially it wasn’t very successful. It was based on terrific prose storytelling from Patrick O’Brien. It featured wonderful performances, including Russell Crowe’s career-capping best as Captain Jack Aubrey. It was set in a thrilling milieu, as picturesque as cinematography can be…but it hardly made any money. There’s a moral in there, somewhere. But I digress.
To tell stories that touch the human heart, you must focus on the human heart. What could be more obvious? Yet far too many would-be storytellers in our time think the way to great fiction is through bombast and titanic events: superheroes, world-shaking conspiracies, alien invasions, hordes of zombies, the opening of the gates to Hell, and likewise. Such matters can only be useful as a backdrop for far smaller things: love and hatred, commitment to an ideal, self-discovery, and personal growth.
Just a few early-morning thoughts from yet another storyteller. I’ll be back to this later. Just now it’s time for Mass.