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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

5,000 Words on Why I Should Stay the F*** Out of Mr. William Forrester's Apartment

Well, after much delay and nasty unreadable scribblings on my Moleskine, here's the essay I promised my students a few weeks ago. If you've never watched the film "Finding Forrester," here's a quick and definitive way of getting caught up. You can watch a short trailer (HERE) that includes the scene where William Forrester says those now famous words to Jamal. This essay is imaginary, and at times humorous. The novel plots included here (including the one for "Avalon Landing") are original and no fault should be directed at either fictional character in the film :-)

5,000 Words on Why I Should Stay the F*** Away from Mr. William Forrester's Apartment

by Jamal Wallace
While the purpose of this essay began as a humorous endeavor, the seriousness of its general application and meaning shouldn’t be ignored. When writing about one of the greatest challenges known to humans one must keep the proverbial “straight face.” Solitude, loneliness, abandonment (whether forced or self-imposed) are some of the most painful experiences a person can undergo. Any of these terms, by definition, are often accompanied by a wide variety of individual interpretations. Often time, the definition of experiences such as these takes place within a personal space; say, a prison cell, a workplace office, or even a place of residence. In the case of a self-imposed isolation that occurs in an apartment or home, the given solitude takes on a meaning all of its own. It is impossible for me to understand Mr. William Forrester’s solitude, his self-imposed isolation, and due to the fact that he is a fictional character, I can only approximate a general examination of his personal reasons. Nevertheless, it is the premise of his assignment that rings factual and concrete—a level of respect that should have been obviously present to me but which I found easy to ignore.
Solitude and isolation remain an abstract experience to me. I’ve lived with my mother and my brother all of my life. Mr. Forrester doesn’t share this experience with me. In fact, his experience is the complete opposite of mine. As a result, Mr. Forrester has had the life-long experience (should I say the opportunity) to live out the meaning of those aforementioned abstractions. Year after year, alone in his apartment, Mr. Forrester translates that painful isolation/loneliness into a glorious exhilaration in the silence he occupies. He invented a space where not only his body resides, but also his most menial thoughts; his most common ideas turn into a clamorous presence, all of them standing in line demanding his unequivocal attention. Out of this solitude, Mr. Forrester’s ideas materialize into writing. These he might consider his “visitors,” his accompanists to his personal and lonely song of grief.
Of course I would be the first to admit that I shouldn’t have violated this sacred place by breaking into his apartment. What I didn’t realize while I walked through his dark apartment that night was how wrong I acted, and how with every step I took I stepped into one of Mr. Forrester’s “visitors.” I seemed to have dirtied their pristine shapes, offended their virginal forms. Mr. Forrester’s anger directed at me was not simply justified because of my vulgar act; he has all the right to ask me to write this essay, to force me reflect on what solitude and loneliness and silence really mean.
William Forrester’s novel, Avalon Landing is the story of a man who returns from World War II and finds that the damage done to him makes him utterly incompatible with his former life. In the short months after his return his life spirals out of control—he loses his marriage; is not allowed to see his children; he is unable to hold a job of any kind. He insists in revisiting the places of his youth: his boyhood home, his high school and college, but to no avail. Four months after returning from the unbelievable violence of jungle fighting in the South Pacific, he finds himself living out of his car, the winter months upon him.
The bulk of the novel’s story is told by the protagonist himself in the first person. I am quite certain that Mr. Forrester wanted to achieve some sort of intimacy between the writer and the reader. After all, the story is being told while the protagonist rests on the backseat of his old Dodge, trying hard to keep warm. I can’t think of a better place to accent solitude, loneliness and isolation. The story is episodic in nature. The protagonist, telling his story retrospectively, goes back and forth in the timelines. While he keeps his story about what happened in the war relatively short (the book is only 52,523 words long), the narrator tells the reader about his platoon’s dreadful and tragic end. They had been sent by the high command to fulfill an impossible mission, some type of patrol that took them deep into Japanese occupied territory. At first, the narrator protested and did not want to take his platoon on this particular mission, calling it some “futile madness.” His superiors pressed on and he had no alternative but to lead his platoon right to its inevitable end. He knew that if they ran into trouble, there would be no backup or reinforcements—just him and the last of his men. As predicted, the platoon is slaughtered. Only two men survive. The narrator recalls how he and a Private First Class survived the ambush, tried to retrieve some of the bodies of their comrades, fail to do so and survived four days in the jungle evading Japanese patrols until by some miracle found themselves back to the American lines. The Private First Class’ name was Nicholas D. Avalon.
Because of its episodic structure, the narrator elaborates throughout the novel on different stages of his life in what appears a non-chronological line. I am not quite sure what Mr. Forrester intended by structuring his novel in this way; perhaps it was some effort at breaking the fictional standard expected of the post-War public. He speaks of his marriage before and after the war, the particularly distressing set of circumstances that drove him to call his automobile “home,” his college days before and after December 7th, the birth of his children. The reader might be disappointed in finding that after both the narrator and Nicholas D. Avalon arrive home from the war, they quickly lose contact with each other. As the narrative finds the present tense, the narrator becomes obsessed with finding the whereabouts of Nicholas D. Avalon. This jump to the present takes place between chapter eight and chapter nine, and in the course of this time, six years evolved with a quick pass of the page. After a few false leads, he does indeed find Nicholas D. Avalon very much alive. Nicholas had gone on to college on the G.I. Bill, found love with one of the homely co-eds on campus, became an English teacher in the local high school of the town where he now made his residence. Wife, children, job and fulfillment—Nicholas had it all. The conversation between the men might leave some readers yearning for more, reaching out and trying to listen in to what these men said to each other. But again, Mr. Forrester’s mastery of plot eliminates much of the conversation that serves as the catalyst for the narrator’s return to normalcy. Nicholas D. Avalon does indeed save the narrator’s life. Merely his example about how to live life after the disastrous experience of war is enough for the narrator to find a new path in his life. Despite the fact that the narrator doesn’t relate much about living in his car through the cold winter months, I became aware that a deep sense of solitude must have overwhelmed him into his elaborate narrative style. I am not here to debate the meaning of Mr. Forrester’s novel (God knows he hated that) but it is certainly safe to say that a deep yearning for solitude—the solitude a writer must work with—was at hand. While the meaning of Avalon Landing is not exactly a “soup question,” I have tried for eight years to make sense of William’s voice within the written page. That is not to say that I associate the author directly to the narrator simply because he was a personal friend of mine. I spent countless hours with him. Knowing an author personally can indeed tarnish the reader’s interpretation of the novel, but in the case of William, the only part of him that spoke with his voice was the narrator’s desire for the solitude of his car. The backseat of the narrator’s car became William’s own allegory of a safe place, the symbolic cocoon he struggled to keep for himself and that I violated when I broke into his apartment that night.

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At 2:10 PM, Blogger Pedro Barros said...

Kind sir:
Hello, my name (has you can notice) is Pedro. I'm Portuguese, and i really loved the film "Finding Forrester".
However, one thing never left my mind. Is the author and the book really real?
If so, where can i find them?
Thank you!

At 2:46 AM, Blogger Auto Detailing Forum said...

Great post I love the movie i will get on amazon and order the book.
Car Detailing Phoenix

At 3:37 AM, Blogger marcelo salgado said...

Well, my comment was erased ....here we go again...
The character W. Forrester as well as his novel "Avalon Landing" are both fictional. Apparently the movie is loosely based upon the life of JD Salinger. He had a reclusive existence and like Forrester, and he just wrote one novel, "The catcher in the rye", although many short stories. Appart of these two facts and that he lived in NYC in his youth (Madison Av, not the Bronx) his life got nothing to do with Forrester's. So, since you cannot read AL, you can intstead read The Catcher, in case you havent already. It's a marvel. His short stories are great too and hide deep insights about his life experiences. I recommend to read his biography as well. His life is as interesting as his own writings, if not even more. So, have a good reading.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Kagemusha said...

Marcelo Salgado: I am not quite sure what comment you are referring to. Thank you for posting this. I know Forrester and Avalon are fictional. If you read my entry, I proposed to write a fictional essay about the fictional story of Forrester and his novel and his relationship with Jamal. I wrote the essay in the voice of Jamal. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Thank you again.

At 9:43 PM, Blogger Mikhail Kolotov said...

Я напишу на русском языке, потому что мой английский очень невелик для того, чтобы на нём писать, поэтому придётся вам воспользоваться google-translator, или попросить каких-нибудь русскоязычных друзей перевести вам мой комментарий.

Прежде всего хочу сказать, что мне понравилось ваше эссе к этому замечательному фильму. Вы, судя по эссе, должно быть хороший преподаватель, вашим студентам повезло с вами. Спасибо вам!

Теперь перейду к моему мнению об этом фильме, и не только о нём.

Когда я увидел что этот фильм снял Гас Ван Сент, и что он же снял Умницу Уилла Хантинга, я был впечатлён талантом Гаса, что и как он в обоих фильмах раскрывает одну и ту же тему, но под разными соусами, и тема эта - Как важно, чтобы в жизни молодого человека встретился надёжный и мудрый друг, который способен показать юному человеку себя, показать ему на что он способен, и показать, что самое главное - Как по-настоящему и мудро распорядиться своим даром и вообще жизнью, и здесь, на мой взгляд, Ван Сент делает это блестяще! А актёры воплощают эту задумку абсолютно гармонично и естесственно, то есть великолепно. И что также важно, в обоих фильмах юнцы помогают своим старшим друзьям понять самих себя, и помогают им попутно в ходе дружбы разобраться со своими жизненными ситуациями и экзистенциальным тупиком.

Ещё конечно же в обоих фильмах хорошо раскрыта тема, как молодой человек из финансово бедного района большого города проявляет себя в тех или иных жизненных обстоятельствах. И что самое интересное для меня, это как оба этих молодых человека в условиях современной системы образования случайно(-закономерно) оказываются в одних из лучших учебных заведений страны, и что затем они в итоге оба с этим делают; и это дорого стоит, чтобы увидеть эти оба фильма и сделать соответствующие выводы.

В общем чертовски здорово эти две истории показали, как парни нашли себя в этой жизни и в этом мире, а это уже бесценно, и такое на деле, по моим жизненным наблюдениям, к сожалению происходит с нетаким большим количеством людей, но у этих двух парней это получилось. И это круто!
Я буду рад собрать в жизни коллекцию из таких фильмов, ибо они действительно вдохновляют и заставляют серъёзно задуматься, а тем ли ты идёшь путём в жизни, нашёл ли ты свой экзистенциальный клад, или ты ещё в его поиске в жизни.., и что ты будет делать дальше с этим кладом, чтобы он превратил твою жизнь в настоящую жизнь.

Спасибо вам, ещё раз, за ваше эссе, мой неизвестный заочный друг. Желаю вам и дальше писать такие, и даже лучше эссе (работать ведь над собой всегда не поздно, верно :-)).

Мой же комментарий получился сырой и недоделанный, нужно многое расскрывать в этой теме, но сейчас уже не буду этим заниматься, просто отправлю его вам как есть.



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