Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The arc of the art and of life

Listening to the morning news programs on NPR over the weekend, I was interested to hear two separate interviews with the actor Robert Duvall. Duvall, who is 79, has a new movie coming out called "Get Low". In it, he plays a hermit, Felix Bush, who has lived the life of a misunderstood exile in a cabin in the woods for some forty years. Now he has come out of the woods to contact the local funeral director, played by Bill Murray, to plan his own "funeral party". The film is actually based on a real-life story of a hermit in Tennessee. The events took place in 1938.

In both of the interviews that I heard, Duvall made the point that there is a direct arc between his first role in the movies, Boo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird", and that of the hermit Felix Bush. Boo Radley was a shy, sensitive, emotionally fragile man who was not able to deal with society. Felix Bush is, apparently, almost an older version of that man - a loner, a man who cannot be at ease in the company of others. It started me thinking about the arc of my own life.

I can certainly trace my beginnings as an only and sometimes lonely child on a poor hill farm to the person that I am today. I see the very same insecurities and faults in myself today as I can recognize in that child that I was. In some ways, I see the same strengths as well. It just makes me wonder if anyone ever truly escapes the arc on which one's life is set early in that life. I wonder if that child that was isn't always there, tugging us back to the predetermined path, even if we try to escape and set our feet in some other direction. And if one is forever the captive of the child that was, what of free will? Do we ever really have the power to make our own decisions and choose our own roads, or are we forever guided by, perhaps ruled by, our pasts?

I wonder what made Boo Radley so afraid of contact with others. What happened to him to make him such a man? Would he ever have become an extravert bon vivant life of the party type? Or would he have forever lived his life alone in the shadows and become Felix Bush in the end? Can we choose our own destiny or are we forever bound to the past in a continual arc?

Maybe Freud had it right, after all.

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