I owe Rian Johnson a beer. Perhaps a hug. Something tangible, in any case. The writer-director of recent sci-fi supersmash Looper (he previously teamed up with leading man Joseph Gordon-Levitt on his slick indie high school noir, Brick) recently crafted a cinematic experience that surprised me, thrilled me, and even made me think.
It was as I was sat in the screen watching his latest cinema outing and snacking on sweet 'n salty popcorn that I was led to consider the prevalent conflicts that occur as a result of our personal and cultural misunderstandings.
In the film, Bruce Willis comes back from the future only to find himself in conflict with his younger self. I won't give away any spoilers for those who haven't yet seen it, but the film is essentially the story of a man at war with himself. For reasons entirely plausible, both the older Willis and the younger Gordon-Levitt are completely at odds in pursuit of their respective desires.
I had an epiphany about halfway through the film, when I realised that these characters' central flaw lay in the fact that they were unable to jump out of their own very limited perspective to develop some kind of understanding of what the other person was thinking or feeling. Because they were unable to understand the panoramic picture as we audience members could, they made decisions that they would not have made, had they had all the knowledge.
This resonated with me as being deeply true to my own life - to instances where I have convinced myself that others were 'out to get me' when in fact it was probably an error of miscommunication. Further thought reminded me that this is a problem that runs throughout literature: Shakespeare's Othello is essentially the story of a man whose problems (I'm looking at you, Iago) would evaporate if only he would communicate effectively with his wife.
None of this is to say that there's anything easy about communication - the stories mentioned above work so well because they explore the vulnerabilities of our characters, the flaws that lead to these miscommunications.
I'm glad I went to see Looper - it reopened my eyes to the reality that everyone else is only out to lessen their own suffering, just like me, and reminded me that a kind word or even a request for clarification is a far more valuable alternative to an unquestioned assumption.