Yesterday I had a nightmare, a scary one (as all nightmares are), and funny part is, it came straight out of a novel I read – V.S.Naipaul's "A House for Mr. Biswas". True, as all good works of art do, I was moved to tears as I ended the book. A favourite person left me, forever. Emotions were triggered, to a certain extent, with my total involvement with the protagonist, the lead character as they say. I feel identification with a character can lead to complete or (in this case partial) identification with the ethos of the character. Our minds are wired that way, to sympathise and empathise, which one, I don't know.
Yes, empathise, that's the word I will go with. Characters – cinematic, dramatic or plain bookish – affect us in many ways. For a moment, in my dream (or, haan, nightmare), I was caught in a situation similar to Mr. Biswas, without a house to call my own, feeling like driftwood, a victim of circumstances, a nowhere man just wandering along. That thought scared me and I woke up in a sweat. That was the power that words and the novel exercised over me. Awesome, it was; just awesome in its power and influence.
In movies we identify totally with the character – i.e., if the story is told well –, narrative is good, pacing is just right and sequences imitate our thought process. Unless this happens we lose empathy with the character. Cinema has the power to influence more than novels and stories, the reason being that it is a visual medium and we see it in a darkened room where there aren't many distractions. However, movies tend to overstate things, what with special effects, and such like.
I am a literature person who has a liking for movies and primarily my thoughts are shaped into words first and then into images. So words have a great power over me, they overwhelm me, make me want to do things. They even appear in dreams. I am reading "Tough Guys Don't Dance" by Norman Mailer and a passage made me want to write like him. I rushed home sat on my laptop and found that I couldn't, because I am not Norman Mailer. Writing is as unique as are fingerprints and the pattern on the retina. So my advice is do not try to imitate another writer, find your own voice.
Great literature is nothing but words. In the annals of novels here are some of my unforgettable characters:
Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
Humbert Humbert in Lolita.
Oliver Twist in Oliver Twist.
Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye
Salim Sinai in Midnight's Children
Mr. Biswas in A House for Mr. Biswas
Of course, only some, not at all the only ones, the last one being a recent experience.
Hm, not to overstate my case, the following are some movie characters with whom I identified:
The protagonist of "Sonata Above the Lake" – A Russian film
The character of "The Fly" – a film starring Jeff Goldblum
The lead of "The Hustle" – a film starring Burt Reynolds
The lawyer of "The Verdict" – a film starring Paul Newman
Of course, only some of them....