In a way, this tack is reminiscent of Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar winning screenplay for Network (1976). Here we have the ravings of Howard Beal, a news anchor who can’t abide the commercialization of the news and exhorts viewers everywhere to stick their heads out the windows and shout “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore!” There was so much going on at the time to rile people up that folks everywhere were shown opening their windows and wholeheartedly following Howard Beal’s directive.
There are countless other examples. Like Michael Clayton (2007) Tony Gilroy’s Oscar nominated screenplay with best actor winner George Clooney in the leading role. In this tale, Clayton, deployed as a fixer for a prestigious law firm, starts to have second thoughts when he’s sent out one evening to get a client “off the hook” after a hit-and-run accident. He finds the man safe and cozy in his upscale McMansion claiming the victim had no business crossing the dark street in the rain. Later on, the firm’s chief litigator has a breakdown while representing a major chemical company during a multi-billion-dollar class action suit. It turns out this seasoned advocate is also having a crisis of conscience, realizing the company’s pesticides have had disastrous effects, and is convinced he’s been summoned to make amends.
The lesson centers on what it takes for a believable character to finally take on the powers that be. In one telling instance, as the forces of duplicity begin to close in on him, Clayton pulls over, drawn by the sight of a trio of horses at twilight grazing at the top of a rise; perhaps because they’re untainted, natural and free. This cinematic shot is all the more powerful because it’s both symbolic and wordless. Clayton no sooner reaches the horses when his car blows up far below; the chief litigator is subsequently done away with; and Clayton’s quest becomes that much more urgent.
It’s interesting to note that in real life this kind of intrepidness doesn’t always hold. Not long ago, a junior Republican Senator from Arizona, upset with the current machinations of the White House, addressed his colleagues in the Senate, urging them to take heart and speak truth to power. Getting no response, he shrugged off his campaign as a hopeless cause. In contrast, during a point in Lewis Foster’s best original story Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), a novice junior senator (Jimmy Stewart) collides with the political corruption in Washington, crying out on the Senate floor that “a lost cause is the only cause worth fighting for!” After a futile, uphill battle, this naïve common man eventually triumphs.
In this same light, today’s #MeToo- like movements have finally, at long last, been set in motion as women banded together for a hitherto lost cause.
As it happens, in my recent effort entitled Miranda and the D-Day Caper I literally couldn’t take it anymore, longing for days gone by when the small town virtues of truth, decency and the longing to right a great wrong were easily identified with. When two cousins from the Heartland left their comfort zone to take on the powers that be, became thwarted at every turn and, finally, when all seems lost, blew the whistle.
I guess I’m such an incurable storyteller that I couldn’t help myself and had to find some way to step in.