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On the loneliness of kings

Diverse protagonists share wealth, power -- and isolation

As usual, Shakespeare got it right: Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. But as dramatized in several of 2010’s most prominent award contenders, the unease of the great and powerful stems not from rebels or would-be usurpers, but from a particularly modern malady: “loneliness at the top.”

Whether on the literal throne of England or wielding figurative scepters of Hollywood or Silicon Valley, today’s movie monarch finds himself profoundly dissociated from the outside world, a king on life’s chessboard feeling much like a pawn.

The theme literally came in a dream to screenwriter David Seidler (“The King’s Speech”), who “just wrote it down on a notepad next to my bed, and it’s in the script word for word.” The newly-installed King George VI “talks about being driven through the streets of London in a carriage, and seeing a common man in the crowd.

“He realizes that that man who is staring at him has no comprehension of his life, just as he, the prince, has absolutely no comprehension as to what his is like. It’s a huge chasm.”

Having once served as political aide to Fiji’s president, Seidler “certainly had ample opportunity to witness the fact that when you’re at that level in whatever society you are in, you are very much alone.”

Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” begins on a road to nowhere, with action star Johnny Marco — a king of sorts in the movies — endlessly circling a dirt track in his sleek Ferrari.

“He’s not finding meaning in all these superficial pleasures that are supposed to be fun,” Coppola says. “If you’re eating nothing but candy, it’s only fun for a while.”

Not even twin exotic dancers on a house call — have poles, will revel — can rouse Johnny out of his walking coma.

He’s propped up at press junkets the way Bertie is muscled into flower shows. Neither has much to say and no one cares, because it’s all about image and presence, the flesh and blood man absent but unmissed.

“There’s something specific to his movie star-ness,” Coppola says, “a lack of control. Everybody wants a little piece of you, which must be draining.”

A reverse trajectory is at work in “The Social Network,” where Mark Zuckerberg goes from zero — nerdy victim of an unanticipated breakup — to hero. He starts poor and obscure but, surrounded by friends, ends famous and powerful but alone.

As scribe Aaron Sorkin notes, his loneliness began early. “He wasn’t anywhere near the top, but he was lonely anyway. By the end of the movie he’s the youngest billionaire in the world with 500 million cyber ‘friends.’ Yet what he needs to do is reconnect with that girl from the beginning.”

For Zuckerberg and Johnny Marco, the friendships they choose — cyber or otherwise — prove a curse. As Sorkin says, “sometimes we want to be with people who don’t make us be the best that we can be.”

The banishment of Mark’s last real friend and conscience, Eduardo Saverin, leaves him in the clutches of Sean Parker, “a guy who wanted to start a great keg party at Mark’s house but needed to wait until the parents left — Eduardo, in this case,” observes Sorkin. Johnny’s buddy Sammy is “always there for the good times, or as a videogame partner,” says Coppola. But Johnny’s supposed lifelong BFF neither is asked for, nor offers, any succor.

On the other hand, such false friends trouble Bertie in “The King’s Speech.” Says Seidler: “When Logue asks, ‘What are friends for?’ and Bertie says ‘I wouldn’t know,’ he’s telling the truth. I’ve read every biography ever written about the man, and that guy just didn’t have friends.”

For the prince, it’s a major source of dissociation because a stutterer — and Seidler speaks from first-hand experience — “needs the reassurance that he can talk to someone outside of his family, outside of his class.”

Yet just as certainly, relationships contribute to these characters’ cure. Connecting with his daughter Cleo may invest Johnny with the will to walk away from the Ferrari and the glitzy life it represents. Coppola finds universality here: “Everybody has moments where they’re making a choice and deciding which way to live their life.”

Therapist Logue, Seidler believes, “is able to bridge the chasm to true friendship and get the King to a stage where as the big speech is about to begin, Logue can say ‘Just say it to me as a friend.’ And he thinks, ‘Yes, if I just talk to him the way I normally do, I can get through this.'”

And the Facebook mogul? “Well, you know, Mark at the end of the movie is alone, all alone,” Sorkin says. “And he’s gonna stay in that room hitting ‘Refresh’ until he hears back from Erica.”

Yet the writer approvingly speaks of the balance evidently found by the real-life mogul, if not by his screen incarnation. “I understand he has a serious girlfriend who made him sign a contract saying that X number of hours a week will be devoted to utterly non-Facebook-related things. The subject of Facebook cannot come up.

“So it sounds like he’s doing all right.”

More from Eye on the Oscars: The Writer:
Pragmatic scribes fulfill visions | Scribes have eye for crime | ‘Conviction’ drama extended to set | On the loneliness of kings | A happy jump for ‘Rabbit’ | Writers: Freshmen standouts

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