Monday, August 29, 2011

The Whole Wide World (1996)

     With the 2011 version of Conan the Barbarian fresh in my recollection, I thought it would be fitting to get around to seeing the movie that dealt with the Cimmerian's creator, Robert E. Howard.  That film would be the nearly forgotten The Whole Wide World (1996), directed by Dan Ireland.  I have a feeling that fans of the Conan character would not be very much enamored with the often quiet, emotionally grounded tale of a troubled writer from West Texas; to make the brutal warrior little more than an escapist fantasy for a social misfit robs Conan of his power.
     I don't know that there is terribly much to say about the movie without getting into the elements of the plot.  It is shot in a style more frequently seen in the late 1970s or early 1980s; it is clear that Ireland was not going for anything innovative in his feature length film.  The music, while quite effective, occasionally booms when it doesn't have to.  I will also note that the West Texas of the movie looks much greener than than I imagined the real 1930s West Texas to be, but it may be that my preconceptions are based upon nothing but confusing West Texas with Oklahoma.  Renée Zellweger is a little more restrained than I would have prefered, and Vincent D'Onofrio sometimes plays his role as though he were on stage, but both are fully invested in their characters.  The supporting cast is equally strong, and provide for great moments of humor and levity to break the tension of the relationship between the leads.
     I do think that the story does give some proper credit to what it means to be a writer who has to produce on a regular basis.  Howard (the character) lives inside his fantasy worlds so he can understand them and bring them to life.  He knows that what he is doing is work, same as any other kind, but one that allows him the freedom to call as many shots as he can.  He opines that a person cannot have a job and write; you can only do one.  I think he has that well identified, but I think the underlying notions that he needed to have a receptive fan and inspiration – in his case, his mother – is more telling of an author willing to be very critical of his works.
     This isn't the kind of film that would make me want to go out and read the collected works of Robert E. Howard.  I have been working through a short list of American authors I must read, and he is not on that list.  What it did do, however, was make me want to get back to writing.  And made me grateful that I have – at the very least – a passing understanding of the emotional state (and its construction) that led Howard to his ultimate end.
     I recommend the movie for those who are looking for something involving human interaction and not just special effects with a loose story to connect them.  I will also encourage people to give it a second viewing with the commentary track; that has more to do with the making of the film and staging of the shots, but it quite informative. 

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