Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Concerning the Moral Fate of Fictitious Peoples

I was stumbling about the local Blockbuster in La Mirada on what I can only presume was a slow Tuesday night some years back.  As is my nature, I spent as much time thumbing through pictures of movies at the store then I would actually watching whatever fateful film I eventually linked my evening destiny with.  My attention at once was consumed by this exquisite poster:

Hard Candy was, from what I had heard, a twisting, nail-biter of an indie thriller.  And 'Little Red' as the bait for a wolf was such an alluring image.  Even the title exuded a piece of work that was worth its weight.  Despite my infamous proclivity to rent a film based on its cover art, I had some reservations of this Hard Candy.  For one, I am of the nature that I find it almost impossible to suck a confectionery into oblivion.  I always bite.  I never get past the third lick.

My other reservation was that I had overheard a vicious rumor that this film could be firmly planted in the 'torture porn' sub-category of film.  The likes of films like Hostel appeared to be invoking a new wave of low-budget gag-on-your-own-tongue filmmaking.  I did not then, nor now, desire to give any security to the continual procreation of those 'dark arts'.  Being bound by deep indecision, I called my dear friend for help and comfort in the throes of such a difficult decision on an otherwise epicless Tuesday night.

I write all this to get to my main subject: the honorable Alex Carpenter.  Around this time period, circa 2006ish, Mr. Carpenter and I were enjoying the apex of our friendship.  A couple months prior to this particular phone call, while building a loft bed as part of our daily regimen at our summer job, Alex had humbly admitted some seeds of weakness in his character.  Rather than confront the issue, I sought instead to push upon him my lens of near perfection upon his brow.  I didn't want to know about his shortcomings.  For my sake, he needed to remain sinless in my eyes.  Nevertheless, he had confessed to me, and my response was an ill-timed, "Alex, your the most righteous man our age I know."  I retell this tale to stress the moral authority that my friend's words had on me.  Furthermore, I knew him to be a man who had already watched Hard Candy.  He would know whether it would feed my soul on this drabby weeknight.

The short answer was that it was perhaps best to avoid the film, though the longer answer had hints that Alex was curious as to how I would perceive the film.  But desiring to be a righteous man, (like Alex in this old pic beyond reproach on the right) I took the ascetic route and began to traverse through other titles, leaving Hard Candy to its own bear trap.                    

My ability to not force my tender little soul into a forced feeding of supposed castration (as had been hinted to me concerning the content of the film) was availing.  In the fall of 2007, perhaps a year give or take after the Blockbuster night, Alex and I came together to forge an idea onto paper.

We conjured up one feature length draft of The Signal Station.  This was to be a simple construct revolving around four individuals searching for an extraterrestrial signal at an isolated look-out station.  When they do discover a signal, the four would play out a chess match of intricate desires and manipulations.  The big theme was to be associated with answering the question of, 'Why do we feel alone?' Finding a signal from the cosmos was to offer a distinct hope to every distinct individual.  We were building the Citizen Kane of alien flicks; a rosebud of the cosmos.

What happens next?

We made the lazy decision as screenwriters to collaborate on the first draft in an independent manner.  I would write ten pages, and Alex would write the next.  Whatever would happen, would happen.  We'd worry about cohesion in subsequent drafts.

Well, dear friends, I believe Alex Carpenter went off the beaten path.  I blame him for our divergent trajectory.  The concept was never conceived to involve anything more than four people in a room.  Suddenly, somewhere around page 35 or so, Alex started involving others.  And then there were other others.  Before I knew it, I was writing about blowing up buildings, and hiding in secret bunkers from secret societies.  What a rush!  However engrossing it was to be writing a screenplay that I had no control over, I did feel like we lost our goal.  The story could never again be about four people in a room.

Hard Candy is nothing more than two people in a room.  I know this because I watched it for the first time today. 

As its intricate, Sleuth-like plot spiraled to its convoluted conclusion, I couldn't stop comparing it to The Signal Station.  True, pedophilia and vengeance seemingly has little to do with aliens and isolation, but my brains just won't stop trying to make them be about the same stuff.  I'm not talking about the script we finished with, but rather, that 'Citizen Kane of the SETI program' idea.

The ultimate psychological question is this: why did Alex change our concept?

What was the difference between Alex and I?  I was the naive lad who had not yet let his eyes intake Hard Candy.  My imagination was innocent on this front.  Alex had knowledge.

My supposition of Alex's awareness: you put two people in a room, and give them something to compete over, and the situation becomes impossible to redeem.  There will be blood, and it won't end with the words 'happily ever after'.  How can the story ever end well for all its characters?  Double that number; put four people in a room with competitive motives, and you've got a massacre on your hands.

Those characters we plopped down into The Signal Station, these people, we liked these people.  We created them -- they were our responsibility...  and the construct we created was destined to damn them.  Our four creations were doomed to destroy each other, just as the two souls in Hard Candy will. 

In changing the script, in writing all these external forces onto our people, Alex was saving them.  At very least, he was giving them an outlet to find salvation.  And that's what happened, that's how the story poured out.  With the entrance of outside forces, one goal arose amongst our four individuals in that signal station.  Our characters quit fighting each other and worked for an end that would see them struggle towards a universal light.

My friend Alex Carpenter is a righteous man after all, for he saves his own creation.  He is his chidren's keeper.

Until today I've felt regret about how our little script turned out.  Until today I wanted to uncover our own 'rosebud'... that is, until I watched Hard Candy.


  1. So I gotta know, did you enjoy the film? I personally was engrossed in Hard Candy, the words, the colors, the mind game. I left angered and the lack of redemption frustrated me beyond belief. But (the lack of redemption) also inspired/motivated me, because so many believe, like the two characters in the film, redemption cannot be had. And I know differently. I used that movie to host discussions at Moody. The welcome was by invitation only, though.

  2. The lack of redemption doesn't bother me, but I was perturbed by the haste at which the Jeff Kohvler character reaches his conclusions. I found it quite disingenuous. If he was even remotely capable of making such a final decision as he does in the late third act, then I would expect to see glimpses of it throughout the film (perhaps a sense of masochistic acceptance of his psychological torture).

    In a way, his last decision can be seen as humble. He would rather have people not go through the trial of learning his secrets, then to face an era of humiliation. I do not know... it doesn't follow for a character who so ruthlessly fought for his end the whole film.

    To quick, to quick...

  3. or rather, 'too quick... too quick'