Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Movie Reviews for Writers: Half Light

In this thrilling haunted story, Demi Moore plays Rachel Carlson, a best-selling mystery writer who has recently lost her son and is struggling with guilt. So, she moves to the coastal countryside to think and write and figure out what to do about her now-failing marriage. 

I'll admit that I was expecting a more "by the numbers" thriller, but this one has a lot of emotional intensity. It's as much a drama as it is a ghost story. And Moore really delivers the goods as Rachel, the grieving mother with a deadline to hit. On that basis alone it's well worth watching. 

But, as with all the movies I review here for you, it also has so much to say about the lives we writers experience. 

During a conversation at the beginning of the film, when Rachel's husband Brian receives another rejection for his manuscript, the two of them joke about "Tabitha King Syndrome." For those who don't know, Tabitha King is a capable writer who had the bad luck to be married to Stephen King -- not because he was a bad husband, but because it meant anything she wrote would find it hard to grow so deeply entrenched in his shadow. But it doesn't just apply to family members. 

If a friend has ever recommended you to their publisher, there's always the risk of being ignored because the publisher understands you're doing your duty as a friend or being given the "friendly review" that means nothing because it wasn't really looked at because they were doing their regular writer a favor. 

It also means that as a writer, there's always someone whose shadow you live and whom you are at least a little bit jealous of. I don't have to tell you how it feels to see friends you wrote with when you were all starting now writing regularly for awesome properties and one even recently hitting the New York Times best-seller charts for a graphic novel. Meanwhile, I struggle in relative obscurity with my own tales that I'm vehemently proud of and committed to continuing. Still, as much as I'm proud of them, the struggle against jealousy is real. 

The flip side of that is, of course, the bit she tells her husband when he feels that way. "I couldn't have done it without you," she says, and since he's also her editor, she's absolutely right. He's one of the reasons her prose is so marketable and so clean. They continue:

Rachel: They'll know you one day. Look at all the help you've given me.
Brian: That's editing, darling. It's not the same thing.
Rachel: You're the best editor in London is that so bad? Max Perkins saved Hemingway.
Brian: Yes, well, no one remembers Max Perkins, and he's right up there with Tabitha what's-her-face. 

Of course, kudos to Rachel for knowing and appreciating the help of her editor. 

One of my favorite fallacies is one this movie explores beautifully -- the idea that the better the scenery/environment, the easier it should be to right. To some degree, there is some truth to this. Some sense of calm or quiet is needed for many, if not most, writers I know. Some sense of solitude, for many others, can also help. But there is no perfect place to write just as there is no perfect anything. Writing is an art, yes, but it's also a skill set, a practiced and trained technique of putting words onto paper. As such, as long as base criteria are met for being able to focus, no perfect place exists. 

Regardless, as Rachel looks over the green coast and the rolling seas, she exclaims, "If I can't write here, I can't write anywhere."

It's a nice thought, but as I said before, it's also horse shit. 

It would be more accurate to say while in your home office with your kids constantly interrupting you and your dog barking to go out, "If I can write anywhere, I can write here." 

Another key point I enjoyed in this creepy flick is about how life can shut down our creativity. Notice I don't refer to it at all as writer's block. I call it what it is, our creativity being shut down by our circumstances. Semantics, I know, but even though the results are the same, an inability to write temporarily, it's important to know that it's not something outside us that shuts up down, it's something inside us, something begging us to deal with it. 

Of all the things that shut down our creativity, it's often the things that haunt us that do it the most, whether bills, family struggles, or other issues -- or in this case, grieving the death of a loved one. 

In some cases, the best case if you ask me, writing can be part of that healing process for the things that are haunting us. It can be therapeutic. But that doesn't mean it always is. Sometimes, we need to pull away and deal with those outside things before we can be free to write again. And that's okay. 

The last of the major points Half Light shows us is that, as I've mentioned before in several other reviews, we are known by our writing. It's there we truly live. It's in those words and paragraphs and stories where the secrets of our thoughts and beliefs and values come out and shake hands with our readers. 

When Rachel hands a copy of her book to the hunky lighthouse keeper, he tells her, "I'll find out all about you."

She responds, "Maybe."

But the assumption (okay, truth) is already stated: When I read your book, I'll learn about you and what you think about people and life.

It's one of my favorite things about having so many writers as friends. Even though we may never get to see each other often since we're scattered all over the country, and indeed the world, we can build a deep understanding of each other through reading each others' stories. 

One interesting tidbit was watching Rachel work. It's not a big thing, but it was nostalgic for me. She used what I learned as the "notecard method." She put plot and character points on index cards and then tacked them up and grouped them by scenes and themes. It was nostalgic for me because that's the way I learned to plot a novel. I didn't do it long, and it was far more a "how to write" book way of doing it rather than the more organic method I learned most working writers used, but still, it was fun to see it displayed on screen. After all, every writer has to start somewhere, and it's still a useful method for keeping all that information organized when writing. 

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