my good friends have potty mouths; the best ones have plotty mouths
Batman. This post is going to start with Batman. And an alert for very vague spoilers.
I allowed myself to read some reviews after having seen The Dark Knight Rises. Paste’s review by Michael Burgin stuck out to me. It was a typical praise-tempered-with-cynical-nitpicking affair (because true critics must never fully like anything) and accused Michael Caine’s Alfred of developing early-onset “theme-arrhea.” The contention was that Alfred’s monologue toward the beginning of the film was too wordy and transparently informative of the themes that would define the rest of the story—a compensatory measure to offset the burden of too much plot in too short a runtime (he complained it was both “way too long … and way too short.”) “Plotty mouth” was another word coined for this affliction.
With an admission that I am often too easily influenced by reviews, I must, upon reflection, state firmly that I do not have a problem with Alfred’s speech to Bruce Wayne. I do not think it was out of place or too self-aware; its content was exactly what should pass between good friends, and especially from mentor/father figure to son: Here is what your life has been defined by; this is how you reacted to it; while you may have meant well, it went wrong; please change course because I love you and want the best for you.
Certainly in an affirmation-obsessed culture where unconditional online yay-saying is the non-negotiable norm, a corrective plea to someone’s actual face is jarring. But we are in desperate need of this. We need a bit of “metatalk”—someone close to us who can tell us our life’s story arc and lovingly give us the truth from the outside. Some of the most meaningful conversations of my life have been when someone broke the fourth wall and told me my story, sometimes with a view toward correction, sometimes to simply encourage me. One very dramatic example that will always remain with me happened during a time of severe depression. I received a “eulogy” from a good friend and former teacher: Here’s the person you were; maybe you’ll never be him again; I thought it’d be good for you to hear and remember. That conversation gave me hope and a possible future to look forward to.
If you do not have people that care enough to have meaningful conversation—which is all I’m really talking about anyway—you are abandoned and left with merely what seems best to you. Your life has no chance of being lived well without those special truth-tellers. Another take on the film (watch out–full synopsis) points out the God-like sacrifice Alfred makes by forfeiting even his friendship with Bruce for the sake of telling him the truth out of love and concern.
I have maybe one hand’s worth of people who would be willing to do that for me; I hope I’d never cut them off for doing so. In the times I need encouragement or correction, or if I’ve lost the plot completely, recount it to me, and let me know where it needs revision.