Is film merely a blunt tool of amusement and diversion, or is it capable of more? In this second essay on the inspiration behind Eyrie, I examine the idea of storytelling as a ritual with immense power and utility, and the way this informed my film.
A myth is not a story told for its own sake. It shows us how we should behave. Correctly understood, mythology puts us in the correct spiritual or psychological posture for right action, in this world or the next.
Someone once told me that the most crucial component of a short film is the ending; deciding what you as the filmmaker want the audience to feel when its over. I decided early on what I wanted that feeling to be for Eyrie.
It was a feeling I’d gotten from other films before, though it’s difficult to describe. I’ll put it this way: it’s the feeling that a) my life is worthwhile, and that b) I can’t wait to leave this theatre and live it.
A recent example is James Cameron’s Avatar. The film as a whole, though enjoyable, did not produce this feeling, but there was one segment that came close.
This scene follows Jake Sully in his alien body as he and the other Na’vi scale the floating mountains in search of the nesting grounds of the ikran: giant, four-winged dragons. Their purpose is to initiate the younger members of the clan into a relationship with their dragon. Every Na’vi has a dragon that is meant for them, explains Sully’s love interest, Neytiri. “How will I know which one is mine?” Sully asks. Her reply is matter of fact: “It will try to kill you.”
The audience watches as Sully finds the courage to overcome the possibility of death and wrestle his dragon into submission. Upon reflection, I found that I enjoyed this scene on a deeper level than just “alien vs. dragon.” Some deep chord in me had been struck: How often have the things I love, the things that I feel destined to do, proven difficult? How often has my pursuit of excellence in art or in life threatened to upset any balance I’d found, to take away far more life than it gives me? All the time.
Because of this, when I heard Naytiri’s response, I identified. It’s a mysterious alchemy, this identification, and it’s the blood pumping in the veins of every powerful film. In sharing Sully’s struggles, I identify with him, and suddenly the fight that followed wasn’t just about dragons, it was about my dragons. And when (spoiler alert) he found success, in some small part, I had the feeling described above, worded a little differently for this situation: The fight is worthwhile, and I can’t wait to get out there and fight it.
There’s a word for this kind of story. It’s called myth. It’s a broad concept, but one of its essential tenets, according to the Karen Armstrong quote above, is that it “puts us in the correct spiritual or psychological posture for right action, in this world or the next.”
In the example above, one could argue that the “correct spiritual or psychological posture” proposed by this scene, is this: “When faced with a life-threatening monster, buck up and fight.”
In some small way this scene from Avatar influenced what I tried to accomplish with Eyrie. I knew as soon as I settled on a boy and an eagle that the climax would be defined by combat, dangerous and hotly contested. I needed a crucible for my character to pass through, in the hopes that an audience watching would walk alongside, experiencing both the battle and the victory that follows as a parallel to the battles in their own lives.
Come back in a couple of days for the third and final installment of essays on the inspiration behind Eyrie.