In Real Time

safety-not-guaranteed-pic31Since I started reviewing again, I’ve been overwhelmingly positive about exactly two scripts:

1. Passengers
2. Birdman

That’s out of [counting today] nine reviews. Six other writers completely struck out with me. I find it fascinating that I could read so many scripts from various iterations of The Black List and uncover [what is to me] so much poorly written material.

Fortunately, today’s author is NOT a poor writer. He has mastered the mechanics and form of a screenplay. Additionally, he captures an interesting premise [with his fake time machine] and he has his characters model complex emotions. Most importantly [to me] no one in his script has any special powers, and no one gets murdered in a ludicrous way. Clearly, today’s author stacked his deck in favor of me liking his script. For the most part, this deck stacking worked.

Much like NightCrawler, In Real Time works because its main character aims at being a fully functioning literary-supernova. Oscar Edison Monroe [Osc] doesn’t have quite the attractive force of Lou Bloom, but he’s in that same oppressively gravitational zip code.

Whenever I encounter a character like this, I always think of them as car wrecks on the page. There is some quality about these kinds of characters that makes it impossible to look away from them. They are like that high school physics textbook illustration of gravity in which a sphere sits in a plane and the plane bends around the sphere. The textbook makes it seem like everything in the plane funnels toward the sphere in the center of the drawing. So it is with Osc, everyone in his script funnels toward him.

But, is he worth being the sphere at the center of the plane of this script?

For sure, Osc is interesting. The problem [for me] is that he is too much of a Con-Man. In Archetypal Terms, we would be forced to call him, The Trickster.

If you find yourself impressed with Odysseus [if you liked The Odyssey better than The Iliad] you will like Osc. My problem [and I admit, for once, that this is my problem and not a fault in the script] is that I never identify with protagonists who are Tricksters. I never thought Odysseus was exceptionally heroic, so I don’t agree with making a lite version of Odysseus The Hero either.

We are supposed to cheer when Odysseus kills the Cyclops by linguistic trickery. I always thought there was something cowardly about Odysseus’ victory. There is a Machiavellian [or Utilitarian] aspect to Odysseus’ morality, that I can’t quite endorse. Today’s author realizes this, but does not fully explore it. Consider this from pages 71-72:

BUCK (CONT’D)
…you’ve been gone a bit. Times
for me haven’t been easy.

OSC
I know that, Buck. That’s exactly
why I’m coming to you with this.
This relatively small investment–

BUCK
I have to sell my shares in Apple.

Now Osc drinks his whiskey.

OSC
I think you misunderstood the point
of this meeting, Buck. The point–

BUCK
No, I get it. But I don’t have any
money. I hate to disappoint you. Of
all people. But I’m cashing out.

Osc sees Buck’s Son and Daughter – are they looking at him?

OSC
You can’t do that.

BUCK
Why not?

OSC
Because it’s… You can’t.

BUCK
I have kids. They need money.

OSC
They need a father.

Osc starts toward the exit. Buck stands.

Everyone there, eyes on Osc, hushed tones. Osc feels it.

BUCK
I’m not asking you, Osc. I’m
telling you. Sell my shares.

OSC
There are no shares.

Osc takes a furtive look at Buck’s children. Approaches Buck.

OSC (CONT’D)
I’m sorry.

Osc’s apology is sincere.

I am happy that today’s author recognizes that the immortalization of The Trickster is not a coherent message. Lies can lead to victory but… for every Cyclops that deserves what he gets, there is a Buck who just gets used. Had the script dealt with this ethical dilemma lying at the heart of The Trickster Archetype, it would have been a great script. But acknowledging something, and taking the time to work out what that something means, are two different things. Osc’s character breaks no new ground. He lies and cheats and SOMEHOW remains a hero. The ethical paradox which tells us this isn’t possible receives no explication.

Additionally, the script promises a mystery which it does not deliver. This is a much bigger fault [and this time it belongs to the story and not to the reviewer]. We continue reading because we want the reason behind what has made Oscar’s sister [Agnus] so depressed she wants to kill herself. The script contains an inherent guarantee that if Osc successfully reenacts the date etched into Agnus’ cell phone, we will understand what brought Agnus to attempt suicide. This is why Osc goes through all the effort required to fake time travel for her.

Unfortunately, the script gives us a deus ex machine as resolution to Agnus’ depression. I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t read it, but it is worth reading just to see it happen. Normally, one expects these types of endings in stories that bend reality. I found it incredibly interesting that a writer would allow himself this exit when dealing solely with psychological issues. Read the script to see this happen and then, don’t let it happen to you.

There is a good movie in the incomplete execution of this script. However, the author needs to better incorporate Agnus’ depression resolution into the flow of his story in order to find that good movie. It is a disservice to readers to promise a mystery which can’t be solved with the information provided by the plot points.

Rating: Worth Reading, But Barely

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2 responses to “In Real Time

  1. Did you mean to post a photo from *Safety Not Guaranteed* on an article approving *Passengers* and *Birdman*? I’m fine with it, it’s just unexpected. *Birdman* is my new gold standard for movie entertainment. My god, what a fantastic film.

    • Yeah, I was trying to think of something that matched the tone and subject matter of In Real Time. Safety Not Guaranteed was the closest I could come. Especially in light of the subplot between Nicole and Osc.

      I’ve not seen Birdman yet, but I did enjoy the script. I hope to see it soon!

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