Meru full movie review - Base Camp | "The Symbolic Rectangle"
Divorce can crush you.
No, I'm not talking about Meru. That's the lead I wish I'd written for my commentary on Her. www.imdb.com/title/tt1798709/reviews-734
But IMDb won't let me revise my commentary, because I hit the max tweaks IMDb allows.
So, undaunted?a fan of non sequitur, incongruity, Russian Formalist "strange-making," and eccentric creative leaps!?I won't bury the lead this time. Even though the lead doesn't go with Meru.
I know, go figure.
But I did get something right in my Her commentary: I introduced the concept that I call The Symbolic Triangle.
Her spins around a One-Word Theme*: Divorce. The only way through the dark labyrinth of divorce? Acceptance. Her presents a Rite of Passage story that requires the hero, Theo Twombley, to move through the heartache and grief of divorce into an emotional space where he accepts his fate.
And the simple geometry of Her's story triangle helps us see through the sizzle to the substance of the movie's deft thematic structure.
THE SYMBOLIC TRIANGLE. 1. TITLE: Her (secondarily, the digital-woman played by Scarlett Johansson?the attractive distractor; primarily, Catherine, the real-life woman who dumps the story's hero). 2. ONE-WORD THEME: Divorce. 3. HERO'S NAME: Theo Twombley (screenwriter Spike Jonze's artfully chosen name, which I translate: "A Man For Whom Women Are 'Deities Unknown'").
Which brings us to Meru.
Meru prompted me to reconfigure the geometry. I shifted to an iconic geometry shared by architecture, painting, literature, and cinema?the archetypal shape of windows, walls, and rooms, of canvases, books, and movie screens.
THE SYMBOLIC RECTANGLE.
Anchored by four cornerstones of thematic unity crucial to the art of story design:
1. TITLE | 2. ONE-WORD THEME | 3. SPECIAL WORLD | 4. HERO'S NAME
Same as The Symbolic Triangle?except I added Special World.
I learned about the Special World from David McKenna?, who co-wrote with Christopher Vogler? the book ?"Memo from the Story Department," in which Vogler presents the concept "one word theme?.?" I took David's screen writing course at Columbia University. And one day during a class break, we walked and talked. I'd just watched All the President's Men, and I asked David, "What's the Special World?"
Now, I was thinking along the lines of The Washington Post, Investigative Journalism, Political Corruption, Abuse of Power...
You get the picture.
So imagine my surprise when David said, "The Wasp & the Jew." Ah! Woodward & Bernstein. That blew me away. And stuck.
My contenders for the Special World of All the President's Men play a role in story design: ARENA. And thanks to Barbara Nicolosi, who unpacks this concept in her screenwriter talks (catharsis.com), we can distinguish between Special World and Arena.
But where does Arena fit into The Symbolic Rectangle? Well, I had to mull that over. And I didn't want to turn the rectangle into a pentagon. For symbolic reasons, rectangle makes wayyyyy more sense. As an architect, a painter, and a screenwriter, no way I'm going to base my work on a pentagon! So it hit me: Make the Arena the space defined by the four corners of The Symbolic Rectangle.
Think of a story's Arena as Central Park. Or as The Lawn at UVA. The space the sacred space defined by the perimeter. The stage on which the drama unfolds.
Back to Meru.
THE SYMBOLIC RECTANGLE: Meru
1. TITLE: Meru?Meru means "High"
2. ONE-WORD THEME: Trust
3. SPECIAL WORLD: Team
4. HERO'S NAME: Conrad Anker?German origins: Conrad means "bold" and rad "counsel" (rad: "very appealing, good radical"). Anker means "anchor"?a person who provides strength and support.
5. ARENA: Mountain Climbing
Sure, Meru's a documentary, but the filmmakers clearly signal their awareness of story-design concepts encompassed by The Symbolic Rectangle. (Talk about luck for the hero's name!)
Meru tells a story about a trio of brave-beyond-measure mountaineers. But Meru also tells a story about us. Because as Robert McKee says in his workshop and book, Story, every movie is a metaphor for life. A metaphor for my life and your life.
Meru sends us the message: To reach our high goal, we too must act boldly?guided by radical good counsel?and provide strength and support for a team in whom we place our trust.
Meru asks: Like Conrad Anker and his team, do you have the wherewithal, courage, and bold character to sacrifice everything to achieve your worthy ideal? And when your goal's finally within reach, do you have the humility, wisdom, and grit it takes to retreat? Like the mountain climbers?and filmmakers?did just 150 feet short of the summit? (The filmmakers didn't have a movie after team Anker's 2008 unsuccessful climb.) Or are you so hypnotized by your goal that you blunder, ignoring wise counsel, your inner GPS? Do you have the brains, heart, and guts to hit the reset button? To regroup? To "fail, fail again, fail better," as Samuel Beckett put it? Can you endure an ordeal that doubles or triples in magnitude as you scale your mountain?
Because a mountain can crush you.
Meru's heroic story impels us to more fully realize our own heroic story. We climb to the summit of the human spirit. And return to base camp transformed, dumbstruck by a team of people powered by audacity, tenacity, foresight, mettle, and trust. And love.
McKenna taught me, "The only power of a storyteller is to withhold."
Where does WITHHOLD fit into The Symbolic Rectangle? First take: the Perimeter?the line that connects the four corners and outlines the Arena. Because that line? That's a story's Power Line.
Dimension six of The Symbolic Rectangle.
6. WITHHOLD: (See the movie.)
* See "Memo from the Story Department," by Christopher Vogler & David McKenna
© Copyright 2015 by JEF7REY HILDNER