WGA ‘Beyond Words’: Lonely Heroes Forge Connections

From fantasies to docus, writers explore isolation and fellowship

The classic movie protagonist is getting off his horse and onto the couch.

Today’s scribes — including those on 2015’s WGA Beyond Words panel — are applying psychological scrutiny to the lone-wolf hero, the quiet type who’s “gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” Anatomizing his pressures yields thematic meaning.

Graham Moore (“The Imitation Game”) deems codebreaker Alan Turing “the outsider’s outsider,” and not just because “he was always the smartest man in every room.” Closeted sexuality and wartime security further separated an ill-socialized chap from peers.

“The word we kept coming back to was isolation,” Moore says. Turing develops connections with his colleagues over time, “yet in the last third of the screenplay, every single scene breaks another one of those relationships.” Before his suicide he stares longingly at “Christopher,” the primitive computer named for the schoolmate he loved and lost.

Turing’s brainchild played a part in another troubled prodigy’s suicide decades later. Computer programmer Aaron Swartz forayed into social justice only to be placed in the crosshairs of a ruthless government, as detailed in “The Internet’s Own Boy.”

“Aaron was on this mission to fix the world and in his programming/engineering mentality, all things could be fixed,” documentarian Brian Knappenberger says. “But in human systems, people have a real stake in keeping waste and inefficiency in place.”

Swartz, a natural mobilizer, declined to act on his own behalf when arrested on hacking charges. “He was intentionally trying to isolate himself,” Knappenberger says.

“Whenever he shared anything to people close to him, the prosecutor hounding him saw it as a vulnerability that could be exploited.

“When someone is depressed, isolation is the worst thing they can be going through.”

Mason Evans in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is a sullen, solitary youth, but photography allows him to express himself and win prizes (and girls) during that critical personal mission: ascent to manhood.

But in the hands of “Nightcrawler” Lou Bloom, trolling for violent footage, the camera becomes a cruel capitalist tool. Filmmaker Dan Gilroy was fascinated by “the place where art and commerce and criminality all intersect,” where tragedy “becomes a product to be packaged.”

Painting his loner antihero as “a nocturnal predator,” Gilroy nevertheless demanded charisma and relatability. “Everything was geared toward the audience’s not writing him off as a psychopath. … We wanted the audience to say, ‘Maybe the problem is the world that creates and rewards a Lou.’ ”

“American Sniper,” too, has at its center a loner who struggled to reconnect with people after his Iraq service. Politicians created Chris Kyle’s world, says screenwriter Jason Hall: “He didn’t choose his war. They did.” Hall was driven to explore the psychic price of war, he says, because “the turmoil our warriors bring home belongs to us.”

Yet Hall insists we remember the celebrated marksman’s responsibility to his fellows. “He felt a real need to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves, and he was blessed with the gift of aggression. That’s a rare breed.”

That’s not a bad description of mercenary Peter Quill in James Gunn and Nicole Perlman’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Quill’s “a lost soul,” Perlman says, friendless and closed off, yet charming.

“Deep down, suffering from the loss of his mother, even when he’s a bit of a rascal we remember that he’s been through a lot,” she says.

Redemption arrives through fellowship with the Guardians. “At first they’re people he’s stuck with, but in the end Peter’s stronger with them. … He walks away from selfishness towards a family, fighting for something bigger than himself.  This group is worth more than anything he valued before.”

Leave it to a fantasy to teach our real world a serious lesson. In Knappenberger’s words, “There’s something to be learned about just looking out for each other. I mean, we’re all in this together.”

Tipsheet
What: Beyond Words — 2015 WGA Screen Nominee Panel
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5
Where: Writers Guild Theater, Beverly Hills
Web: wgafoundation.org

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