Monday, November 19, 2007

Why Conservatives Can't Tell Stories

My family has long run in conservative circles. We're used to bringing up topics such as supply-side economics, parental-notification laws and illegal immigration in casual conversation. So when a bunch of people told us that we ought to see a new movie called Bella, we decided to check it out. We were told it had great messages about abortion and won a big prize at the Toronto Film Festival and we would really, really, really like it.

We went. The movie played. We walked out.

"What did you think?" I asked my wife.

"It was ... um ..."

"A little ... disappointing?" I ventured.

"Exactly," she said.

Bella won't leave you shrinking from the multiplex in shame, unlike
other efforts from conservatives. In fact, it has more than a few commendable attributes. The cinematography was good, the actors turned in winning performances (leading man Eduardo Verástegui will raise the blood pressure of just about every female in the audience), the tone is hopeful and upbeat without being sappy.

But the plot. Oh, the plot.

It's beyond bare-bones. The screenwriters have the two main characters traipsing about the Big Apple on the flimsiest of rationales. Which wouldn't be a problem if it were a character-driven piece set on exploring the inner lives of fully realized people. It isn't, though. The characters are (largely) flat. So the audience is left to wonder why these photogenic folks are shopping for scarves at an outdoor market or walking down the beach at night carrying strange, glowing boxes or tearfully emoting to each other in long, expositional speeches. The film's climax and the subsequent dénouement come so completely out of left field that whiplash threatens.

As the credits rolled, I found myself considering why conservatives have such a hard time telling good stories.

Conservatives are basically suspicious of narrative, it seems. When Bunyan penned The Pilgrim's Progress he took much of his introduction to defend his use of allegory to his brethern who thought that only openly didactic methods were appropriate for spiritual instruction. Not a lot has changed in 300 years. I've had conversations with laymen who insist that reading fiction is nothing but a waste of their God-given time on the planet. Others display an aversion to creativity and artistic license, especially when well-worn subject matters get goosed in new directions. (Consider the hullabaloo over
Beowulf or--believe it or not--The Passion of the Christ.) Also, conservatives haven't been telling stories as long as liberals, at least in cinematic form. For every Bella, there's a dozen left-leaning pictures like Lions for Lambs or The Cider House Rules or The Life of David Gale.

In the end, I hope Bella succeeds, despite the narrative flaws. There's nothing like economic success to goose someone toward greater heights, and the right needs all the incentive it can get to spin better and better yarns.

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