I have completed two screenplays. I’ll tell you about them here. The first I wrote with no commercial agenda in mind, just scripting out the movie I most wanted to see. Its title is WAITING TO HOLD YOU, though I often just call it “the Irish movie.” It is a story in two parts, the first taking place in ancient Ireland circa 690, about a small group of dedicated monastics, male and female, that have been marginalized by a large monastery corrupted by secular politics. The second, lengthier part of the movie is a coming of age tale set in West Virginia in 1990 among Irish American teenagers going through a breakup. It touches upon the ancient petroglyphs I’ve written about in more detail elsewhere on this site in the paper “Man from West Virginia.”
Overall, I was able with this formula to draw on diverse aspects of my life, as well as diverse cinematic influences. At times the first part is like if Straub–Huillet adapted St. John Cassian, or if Sergei Parajanov made an Irish movie. Then the art film formalisms of the first part become plaintive echoes in the second part, a humanist tale in the vein of great American filmmakers like William Wyler, Hal Ashby, and Haile Gerima. And the ghost of D.W. Griffith haunts the whole thing.
In the end, the movie — running quite long at over 200 pages — is an unrequited love story between its two parts. Between the intellectual and the populist, the communal and the individual, the righteous and the fallen, the male and the female, the ages and the moment; between God and man. At its core is what I would call “ecclesial yearning.”
Since finishing it I have felt like a parent in charge of a child’s development, but there’s nowhere I could even send such a lovely monstrosity. No one makes the kind of movies I want to see. So I figured I ought to write something else to get people’s attention, something that actually took market forces and audience habits into account. It’s an attention economy, so what does this world of media junkies pay attention to anymore? Politics and horror movies. It’s not what I would have gone with, but it is what I have now written.
So — enter my second completed screenplay, CLIMATE CHANGE. While technically a drama, it also plays the role of a political horror movie. It functions also as a media satire and has tremendous humor, but it is more important for viewers to know it is a horror movie so that they can be prepared for the very dark places that it goes. The story is about Cate, a woman in her twenties who works as a climate change activist doing outreach to faith-based communities. One day, visiting a rural Christian church, her trusted partner does a heel turn and actually appeals to traditional symbolic thinking to win the people over. After this scene, an alternate reality begins to take shape wherein the Eastern Orthodox Church emerges as the dominant ideology of all Western media and starts to mold all politics in its image. It is truly horrifying. Our hero Cate undertakes a transformative battle against a dystopian society that suppresses queer sexuality and denies transgender identity, even if it also seems somehow to solve racism and dissolve the ecological crisis. Her fight does not go well.
Purposefully, now, the conflict of the movie is staged with a dual perspective in mind, such that viewers of divergent ideologies can each see in the narrative their own values reflected back at them, even while being continually challenged by the presence of their opponents. The topic of the movie thus becomes not only the schism between traditional theism and progressive humanism, but the nature of schism itself, reflected in the various church schisms also depicted, most prominently the millennium-old schism between East and West and the ongoing 2018 schism between Constantinople and Moscow.
Ultimately the schism between love and rebellion can not be solved, and there is much, much grief at the heart of this script. But it’s also hilarious somehow. Any horror film worth a lick, after all, ought to be really funny. In terms of cinematic influences on my script, the one big inspiration I would point to is Dušan Kovačević, the greatest political satirist ever to work in film, best known for his collaboration with Emir Kusturica on 1995’s Underground, indeed one of my all-time favorites. I always wondered how his style of allegory could translate to my own political environment, so very, very specific his method is to Yugoslavia post-Tito.* For no matter how closely 21st-century America hews to that reality, it will never have the same history behind it. And so Kovačević’s brand of satire would have to be reinvented from the ground up to depict faithfully my political reality. I didn’t set out to do that exactly when I wrote CLIMATE CHANGE, but in concocting this nasty duck-rabbit of a screenplay, I kind of wonder if I did?
I’m mightily uncertain, though, whether I succeeded in writing something I can actually use to get people’s attention. The ideas in this thing are so extreme — I went no holds barred in dramatizing some of these conflicts. Repulsion, either ideological or moral, and sometimes physical, is right around the corner for all comers. I myself can’t help from feeling ambivalent about it! But that is by design. And then, perhaps more crucially, since I’m depicting the conflict between rebellion and love, I couldn’t help expressing it formalistically in a conjunction of dialectical and non-dialectical storytelling. These days if a script doesn’t adhere closely to a strict dialectical mode of storytelling, the kind that compels people’s attention and denies their free will to look away (think Pixar), no one with money will give it a chance. I’m back where I started. I don’t know what to do with this horrid monstrosity — in a world without love, all my children are monstrosities of one sort or other.
* Note to all rappers and lyricists: If you ever need something to rhyme with “You gonna grab me a Tostito?”, I heartily recommend “Yugoslavia post-Tito.”