One of my favourite movies, and most blogged about, is Stranger Than Fiction.
The main character, Harold, finds himself living a narrated life. He literally hears a voice telling him what he’s doing, what he’s thinking and what he’s going to do. Harold turns to a psychiatrist for help. The psychiatrist sends Harold to an English professor after Harold rejects the initial diagnosis that he is schizophrenic. The psychiatrist reasons that the voice of a narrator means Harold is in a story and an English Lit professor would be able to help him sort out what it all means.
I’m fascinated by this movie because I think it reveals a basic framework for understanding our lives.
Shakespeare suggested all the world’s a stage and we are only players on that stage. We come, we go, entrances, exits but the stage is the real constant.
I prefer the story metaphor. It makes me part of the greater book. And those that have come before me aren’t just history but their story actually informs my story. I am a continuation.
But what kind of story am I in? I talk with people fairly often who seem to be tragedies. Once in a while I run into an adventure story. I’ve been involved, as a wedding officiate, in some classic love stories. I know a few comedies. But, like Harold, I’m trying to piece together just what kind of story I’m in.
Here’s a little dialogue from the film. It’s from a scene between Harold and Dr. Hilbert, the Lit Prof.
Dr. Jules Hilbert: I’ve devised a test. How exciting is that? Composed of 23 questions which I think might help uncover more truths about this narrator. Now Howard… Harold, these may seem silly but your candor is paramount.
Harold Crick: Ok.
Dr. Jules Hilbert: So. We know it’s a woman’s voice. The story involves your death. It’s modern. It’s in English and I’m assuming the author has a cursory knowledge of the city.
Harold Crick: Sure.
Dr. Jules Hilbert: O.k. good. Question one. Has anyone recently left any gifts outside your home? Anything. Gum, money, a large wooden horse.
Harold Crick: I’m sorry?
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Just answer the question.
Harold Crick: No.
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Do you find yourself inclined to solve murder mysteries in large luxurious homes to which you, let me finish, to which you may or may not have been invited?
Harold Crick: No. No, no, no.
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Alright. On a scale of one to ten, what would you consider the likelihood you might be assassinated?
Harold Crick: Assassinated?
Dr. Jules Hilbert: One being very unlikely ten being expecting it around every corner.
Harold Crick: I have no idea.
Dr. Jules Hilbert: O.k. let me rephrase.
[takes a deep breath]
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Are you the king of anything?
Harold Crick: Like what?
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Anything. King of the lanes at the local bowling alley.
Harold Crick: King of the lanes?
Dr. Jules Hilbert: King of the lanes, king of the trolls,
Harold Crick: King of the Trolls?
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Yes, uh uh uh a clandestine land found underneath your floor boards.
Harold Crick: No.
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Huh?
Harold Crick: No. That’s ridiculous.
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Agreed. Let’s start with ridiculous and move backwards. Now, was any part of you at one time part of something else?
Harold Crick: Like do I have someone else’s arms?
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Well is it possible at one time that you were made of stone, wood, lye, varied corpse parts? Or, earth made holy by rabbinical elders?
Harold Crick: No. Look, look. I’m sorry, but what do these questions have to do with anything?
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Nothing. The only way to find out what story you’re in is to determine what stories you’re not in. Odd as it may seem, I’ve just ruled out half of Greek literature, seven fairy tales, ten Chinese fables, and determined conclusively that you are not King Hamlet, Scout Finch, Miss Marple, Frankenstein’s Monster, or a golem. Hmm? Aren’t you relieved to know you’re not a golem?
Harold Crick: Yes. I am relieved to know that I am not a golem.
Dr. Jules Hilbert: Good. Do you have magical powers?
The thing with being in a story is that what happens next matters. My chapter can’t change the whole book but it can greatly affect the next few chapters that immediately follow. If I’m not living my chapter right the Author may have to go to great lengths to get things back on track for the ending as written.
Some of us are gifted to never wonder what kind of story we’re in. Or it seems like a gift to me because I can’t imagine how a person can not wonder. Taking life as it comes has its’ advantages but truth be told, I like being engaged in the process. I’m slowly giving up my illusions of control but like Harold, I don’t want to miss the moments, the other characters I’m supposed to interact with, the richness of life that comes from knowing that this moment or that moment really does matter and to stay in that moment, squeeze every drop of experience out of it and not be in such a rush to turn the page.
What kind of story are you in? Is there a character you’re feeling the need to have more dialog with? Is there some foreshadowing from a previous chapter you feel clouds your future? Do you feel like a 3 dimensional character or is life feeling pretty much one note and monochrome at the moment? Who are you sharing your story with?