It might be fair to say that both of my features have taken failure-prone individuals as their protagonists. As I prepare to begin work on a third feature-length film–the protagonist of which can arguably be called as big a failure, if not a bigger one, than those of the first two films–it occurs to me that it might be a good time to ask myself what I find so compelling about people who try feebly and fail in a spectacular fashion.
Success may seem the more interesting topic at first glance; we as a culture are used to placing laurels on the heads of our heroes. We exalt the winners and condemn the losers. Perhaps partly because of that fact, success stories–stories in which people rise above the challenges they face and come out on top–usually bore the piss out of me. I think there’s a bigger picture to be drawn, however. Failure is universal. Even a successful person can relate to failure. And a story about failure is more instructive about success than the reverse. Yes, a success story is inspirational. But can it be as inspirational as watching someone fail? We almost never get to see what we ought not do, because our films are full of legless cancer patients winning marathons on home-built stick legs. That’s fine and all, but what about the fit athlete who trains hard and loses anyway? Isn’t that story more interesting because we can all relate to that guy? And isn’t it a more humanist approach to care about the losers instead of brushing them under the rug?
Stories ought to be about failures. Most of them aren’t, because there’s a common, crazy misconception that believable stories about regular people are depressing. It’s so much harder to function as a creative person when what you create goes against the grain. But the hard thing to do is usually the more fruitful thing to do.