Interpolation 4: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (DVD)

Dear Mr. Wallace,

While I have not read the book yet, I am sure that John Krasinski did you proud in his film interpretation of your novel.  The film had a very Wallace-esque quality to it; again, I have no point of reference, but seemed to be very true to your narrative style.

I intend on reading the novel – probably during summer vacation – as well as Zadie Smith’s essay about Brief Interviews in her book, Changing My Mind, so this letter won’t be a comprehensive review of the film.  After all, it seems to be a film – and a story, for that matter – that cannot be fully absorbed in just one viewing.[1]

When it comes to writing assignments, I hate to take on the obvious topic choices.[2]  So this letter is not going to be about the interviews themselves and why most men are pigs who never call the next day even though they promise to do so.  Instead, I want to focus on a more subtle, but in my opinion, more important theme.

It was several conversations toward the end of the film that caught my attention.  The first was when the student (I don’t recall the young man’s name) comes in during Sara’s office hours to discuss his essay.  He brings the conversation to the topic of finding / making meaning in the midst of horrible circumstances.  He refers to Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning in which Frankl tries to find meaning in his experiences during the Jewish Holocaust.[3]  The student’s point is that even though Frankl’s experiences were unimaginably horrifying, had he not gone through them we would have no Man’s Search for Meaning.  He further drives home his point by telling the story of his sister being raped.  As awful as her story was, she came away from it with the knowledge that she survived the most dreadful of experiences, and she knows she can survive anything else that crosses her path.

The second conversation in which this idea of making meaning out of terrible circumstances comes is when Ryan – Sara’s ex-boyfriend – comes to her apartment to explain his indiscretions.  He tells of how what he expected to be a simple one-night stand turned into a life-changing experience.  The “hippy girl” he hooks up with tells him a remarkable story of how she survived a rape and what would have been her murder by focusing all her attention and energy on making her assailant think she truly loved him.  This intense role play saved her life, and the retelling of it changes Ryan’s life.  His entire perspective on love and relationships changes when he hears her story.[4]

The final conversation takes place at the end of the film when Sara presents her research idea to her professor.[5]  She tells him she would like to conduct interviews with random men to find anecdotal evidence of the effects of the feminist movement on men.  Of course having watched the entirety of the film preceding this scene, we know her real motivation for her study: she wants to know why men – for lack of a better word – suck.  Why do they lead a woman along and let her believe that they actually care, only to dump them like yesterday’s newspaper when they get what they want?

What I find most interesting in this scene when viewed in the context of the rest of the film is that Sara is looking for meaning in her own horrible circumstance, Ryan leaving her for a meaningless fling.  She spends so much time interviewing all these men to try to get a glimpse into the male psyche.  She even hears straight from Ryan the reason he left her.  Yet, she is unable to find any meaning in her tragedy.

Her inability to accept Ryan’s actions and to find meaning in her circumstances left me wondering what you and John Krasinski[6] were trying to get across through this.  I see three possibilities:

First, is it a flaw in Sara’s character?  Is she simply unable, or perhaps unwilling to accept her circumstances and find meaning in them?  She encounters those who have faced far worse situations than she has, and they were able to find meaning and actually improve their lives because of their tragedies?  Why can’t Sara just learn her lessons and move on?

Second, is it possibly authorial – or directorial – commentary, telling us that there simply is no meaning to be found in any circumstance?  No matter how good or bad the situation, are you and / or Mr. Krasisnki trying to tell us that trying to find meaning is an exercise in futility?  Are people like Frankl or the two fictional women who suffered the horrors of being raped simply delusional for trying to extract meaning or purpose from their tragedies?

Or lastly, perhaps there is meaning to be found in some circumstances, but maybe there are some events that quite simply defy any meaning or purpose or explanation.  But if that is the case, why is it that a Holocaust survivor and two rape victims are able to find meaning, but a girl who was fed a line and then dumped is unable to?  Which takes us back to the first possibility; maybe there are those who are unable to see past the tragedy to find the meaning.

To throw in my two-cents worth, I don’t believe that things – particularly tragic circumstances – happen for a specific, predestined meaning.  I don’t believe that the Holocaust happened so that people could learn lessons, or so that great books like Man’s Search for Meaning or Elie Weisel’s Night could be written.  Horrible things happen because there are horrible people in this world who do horrible things to others.  But I do believe that we can make meaning out of these tragedies.  We can allow them to motivate us to change ourselves and the world around us for the better.  We can say that because this happened to me, I will fight to make sure it doesn’t happen to others.  We can turn our personal tragedies into a catalyst for making our lives and the lives of others a little better and a little more meaningful.

[1] Although, I haven’t yet decided if it is a “buyer” or “multiple renter.”  I certainly plan on seeing it again, I’m just not sure if the website I will use to do so will be Amazon or Netflix.

[2] In my high school American History class, I wrote my research paper defending the Russians’ and Cubans’ actions that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Of course if the Russians hadn’t blinked, and the event had ended in nuclear holocaust, I might have go a different direction.

[3] I must confess, I have not read this book.  I checked it out from the library a year or two ago, but for some reason I never actually finished the book.

[4] This whole scene in which Ryan retells the girl’s story left me wondering about the veracity of her story.  Ryan admits to Sara that he picked her up simply for a one-night fling.  But he confesses that he – like most every guy – puts on the façade of actually caring about and connecting with a girl just so he can get her into bed.  Then after the fling, she tells this story that really connects with Ryan in a dramatic way.  It left me wondering if her story was just a “line” in order to get him to stick around a little longer.  If so, Ryan got beat at his own game.

[5] Even though the scene is at the end of the film, it is really the beginning of the story.  The narrative is very non-linear, one of its most Wallace-esque qualities.

[6] Again, since I have not read the book I don’t know whether this is something from the original text, or whether it is part of Krasinski’s interpretation of the work.

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