A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the film "Stranger than Fiction" with my housemate Anna. We'd seen a trailer for it when we went to see "The devil wears Prada" and thought it would be quite interesting. We both loved it; at the end, it was interesting to hear the range of reactions as we walked out from "not that great" (someone down a mobile phone to her friend) to puzzlement to those that echoed our own.
The premise is simple: an IRS agent who has done things in exactly the same way (e.g., brushing each of his 32 teeth 76 times) for as long as he can remember suddenly hears a female voice narrating his life. That's fine as long as he's tying a single Windsor knot, but when he hears neurotic author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is desperately searching for a way to kill off her main character - Harold Crick - say:
“Little did he know, events had already been set into motion which would result in his imminent death,”
he realises it's time to get help. He finds it in the form of the the splendid Dr. Jules Hibbert (Dustin Hoffman), a professor of English literature.
Through romance, a desperate attempt to pinpoint the source of the voice, lines such as "I'm an IRS agent. Everybody hates me," and Harold's attempt to find meaning in his life - as well as his watch's attempt to get his attention - the film moves smartly through mostly predictable plot twists.
What really makes the film work are its sharp observations of human nature and the questions it raises. In one scene, Harold is on a bus, reading Kay Eiffel's manuscript and the death she has outlined for him (things only happen to him once they're typed, so the death is written out on legal size paper). What would you do if you were given that manuscript? Those sheets of legal paper - the ones you could change? What would you do if you were to die tomorrow?
*Hands up* Yes, as you've guessed from my blog, I'm one of those people whose idea of a great evening is to discuss questions like that over a bottle of white (or madeira or Bailey's or amaretto...) till 3am.
We admit to having a bit of that desire all the time - "Oh, I'd love to be 25 again, but only if I knew then what I know now." We'd love to give that 25 year old the manuscript and say, "I know it seems awful now, but look, it's going to open the doors to some wonderful things," or "Don't say that, you'll regret it a decade on. Let it go, it's not worth it." I'd like to believe that some part of me was able to reach back to that young adult I was and say, "It's going to be ok. Really. Bring that leg back over that railing, go inside and cry it out, and I'll see you in a few years."
So what would you do? One of the questions asked over that glass of wine included, "God comes down and says, 'Here's your soulmate, but there's a catch. You can have him, but he dies after a day/week/month. Now, here's someone else, you can settle happily with him, he's lovely, but you'll always be just a wee bit restless. You get him for 60 years. If you choose your soulmate, you'll be alone for the rest of your life.' Your reply is..." For me? The soulmate, every time. Then, it was because I wanted to be able to make that choice. Now, it's because I know I can. Of course the big question - as it was for Harold Crick - was "What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?"
Funnily enough, as religious as everyone seems to think I am, I wouldn't go to mass, or seek out confession or last rites, or kneel in a church. If my whole life is a prayer - which it should be, and I hope it is - then I need to pour out my life as a libation, not in ritual. I would make sure everyone I cared about knew how much I loved them, I'd drink and laugh with friends, listen to their problems, people-watch, appreciate the beautiful world we live in...and make sure my will and organ donor card were in order, as well as give away my books to those who would love them. Rach, you get first dibs on the clothing, you fashion template! (I know you'll give most of them to Oxfam, but make sure your mum gets enough to replace what you're always 'borrowing'.)
Oh, and I'd remember to look back and love the ordinary things and moments that make up the main threads of the tapestries of our lives - as Kay Eiffel says near the end of the film:
"We must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties which we assume only accessorize our days, are in fact here for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives."
In fact, why wait? I think I'll start now.