This evening, I had the house to myself. I don’t like being at home alone, so I took my mind off the fact that my husband was away by watching a couple of movies we’d recorded over the past few weeks. One was ‘Moon’, which I’d seen before and really enjoyed, and one was a golden oldie, ‘The Running Man’, which (somehow!) I’d managed to miss until now. If you haven’t seen these movies, you might want to be aware that there are some spoilers below.
Another reason I took some time out to watch these movies was because I had a bit of a fraught day yesterday, WiP-wise. I was doing some research into submissions to agents and publishers, writing query letters, and so forth, when it struck me that my book is long. Really long. Too long, in point of fact. I had an idea that I was running a little towards the long end of the ‘accepted’ word count, but figured that most of my favourite books in the YA-fantasy genre are about the same length as the work I’ve produced. However, it would appear not. If I’m to believe what I’ve discovered during the course of my research, my book is about 50,000 words too long. I’ve been thinking about what I can do to fix this ever since, and my brain is on a loop, trying to suggest solutions to itself.
Hence, the movies.
As well as being short, both movies are tightly packed with action (‘Running Man’) and tension (‘Moon’). They both tell a good story in a small space, without wasting time on irrelevance. Perhaps I only noticed this because my mind is twisting itself in knots about this very issue at present, but it doesn’t make it any less true! Also, they both had lots to say about human nature, and what it means to be human, I thought – something that’s important to me, but also to anyone who wants to write a book. Thinking about people, and why they do the things they do, is intrinsic to creating characters.
‘The Running Man’ – at least, the movie version, as I haven’t read the book yet – is (we have to face it) very similar in message and tone to ‘The Hunger Games’. I’m not complaining about this. I found ‘The Hunger Games’ profound, at times, in its message about humanity and what it means to be a human being, too. If the world really did descend into a dystopian hell, and if we really were living through the fallout of a horrible war, or a devastating economic crisis (hang on…!), would we take out our frustrations and horrors at our own daily lives on watching others suffer and die? What would it take to push humanity over that particular precipice? As I watched ‘The Running Man’, I asked myself the question: ‘If this was real, would I be a rabid viewer and consumer of the TV show, and would I be cheering as the stalkers chased down the contestants, or would I be a ‘conscientious objector’, refusing to take part in something so inhuman?’
Of course, I’m glad that there’s no way for me to answer that question, because such a TV show doesn’t exist. Not yet, at least. I wondered why people would take such extreme enjoyment in watching a show like that, and why they’d idolise the show’s host and crave the logos, merchandise, and other accoutrements, and concluded it had to be because of their own feelings of powerlessness and disenfranchisement. They’d crave the branded clothing and the memorabilia in order to prove to everyone that they were part of the ‘in’ crowd, not to be hunted; they were of the powerful class, and not the oppressed. But maybe it’s not even as deep as that. Maybe people, as a whole, just enjoy watching other people (or beings, maybe) suffer. I really hope that’s not the reason, though. Maybe it’s because they’re thinking ‘if those people over there are suffering, then the focus is not on me. If they’re the ones being chased and hunted and killed, then there’s nobody chasing me.’ I’d love to think I’d be the one standing outside the system, and I’d be the one running the underground resistance, but it’s hard to know. I think I have more compassion for my fellow human than the people in ‘The Running Man’ seemed to have, but even I know it’s difficult to be the dissenting voice when you’re living under a frightening regime; a regime where, to stand out and live a different message, could spell death. Sadly, we don’t have to look to fiction for those sorts of situations – those kinds of oppressive regimes are in place all over the world. Perhaps ghoulish game-shows are the next step in the process.
‘Moon’ is an entirely different film, but it takes on a similar question: what constitutes a human? If, in ‘The Running Man’, we were faced with a two-tier version of humanity – a tier in which people are hunted to death, and a tier that sits back and watches it happen – ‘Moon’ uses the concept of cloning to explore the same idea. We’re faced with two, and then three copies of the same person, all of which look identical and are ‘programmed’ with the same memories, loves, hates, and fears – but which, despite all that, are still seen as individuals. Even if we didn’t have the visual cues to help us distinguish one version of ‘Sam’ from the other (one has a facial wound, and quickly begins to display symptoms of illness, while the other remains healthy throughout), it would still be clear. They are very different men, despite technically being exactly the same. So, what makes them different? Is a clone merely a copy of a ‘real’ person, or is the clone a person in his/her own right? What does it take to make a living, breathing, sentient body a ‘human being’? One of the clones in this movie even offers to die to help another clone to live – an act of nobility that few ‘proper’ human beings would be able to match. Again, though this film is SF and not intended to be ‘realistic’, it has a message for our world. Who judges the fitness of others to call themselves ‘human’, and who have we placed on the pedestal, and to whom have we given the power, to make calls on others’ right to live, or exist, as they please? We live in a world in which regimes exist which attempt to argue that certain individuals are lesser than others, that whole groups of people are unimportant because of gender, race, orientation, gender identity, or whatever the case may be. Why have we done this, and who has the power to make these calls?
Well. Those are my thoughts for today. Perhaps I should just learn to watch a movie, and not take every second of footage apart for meaning. That’s what trying to write a book does to you, though – it makes you analyse everything for structure, meaning, motivation, and symbolism. It’s also hard to stop doing it once you’ve started!
So, after all my procrastinating, I still have some big book-related decisions to make. Wish me luck! Hopefully I’ll be able to take some of my analytical skills to my own book, and whittle it away to its essentials. Here’s hoping.