I am a bit of a nerd. A soul nerd. But also a story nerd. One of the things I do for fun is track down and read the original scripts of my favourite movies, trying to find the true heart behind the story, which is often hidden within the polish of the finished product. They are pretty easy to find (all you need is a little Google sleuthing) and it is fascinating to get an idea of how the draft was moulded and amended to create a profitable film. Plus, it's great practice for writing the Oscar-winning screenplay based upon my Man Booker Prize-winning novel. (Just kidding.)
I watched Garden State when it was first released. I loved it right away, and it has since been one of my favourite movies. There is something refreshingly awkward about it. I like that it's not a perfectly flowing film. I like the often jarring, messy dialogue, peppered with moments of hilarity. I think that has something to do with the writer taking the role of the director and the lead actor. The fact that Zach Braff's protagonist, Large, is not the cookie-cutter Hollywood heartthrob but, rather, a confused, floppy haired "soul nerd" with a dopey expression plastered onto his face, is endearing. And, of course, nobody can help but fall head over heels in love with the adorable pathological liar, Sam, beautifully played by Natalie Portman. (That said, Rachel Hills writes a brilliant article on her character, as well as Kirsten Dunst's Claire in Elizabethtown, being "the alternative flat female fantasy".)
The funny thing is that I think I only just "got" Garden State. Only after watching it again, for the first time in about a year, and reading the original script, equipped with my present whimsy-ness and disillusionment, have I finally grasped the message that Zach was trying to portray. I mean, I have always appreciated the film, even when I watched it for the first time at the age of 15. But, oddly enough, I had never really understood it before now. Which I think is an accomplishment, on Zach's part, to create a film which somebody can enjoy without absorbing it at all. It shows how multi-layered and universal it is.
One of the analogies I have only just fully identified with is The Infinite Abyss. For those of you who don't know or don't remember, Large (Zach), Sam (Natalie) and Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) go on a little adventure towards the end of the film, trying to track down a momento (I won't spoil it). Their ultimate destination is a natural phemonenon, a huge underground crevice in the earth which was discovered during the construction of a new mall. There, they meet a family who live in a makeshift house, a boat on stilts, whose job it is to protect the quarry from the company who still want to build upon it. I guess I just like the idea of doing something completely unique, says Albert, the guardian of the infinite abyss. Something that has never been done before. Afterwards, Large, Sam and Mark stand in the pouring rain, on a tractor, wearing garbage bags, screaming into the chasm. And then Large and Sam kiss, for the first time. I had always disassociated myself from that moment, thinking that was just weird. But now I get the full picture; which is that the infinite abyss is, of course, life. We think that we are trapped, but we really have all the freedom in the world. And once we know it, we can use it. Tellingly, the film was supposed to be called Large's Ark, but nobody really understood what it meant.
Before this post ends, I just want to address the critics of this film. A lot of people hate it, with a passion. They say it is stupid, pointless, self-indulgent and boring. I won't dispute those reactions; everybody is entitled to their opinion and I don't doubt that they really felt that way about the film. I just wanted to say that I think that idiosyncrasy is what makes a great film, or website, or article, or book, or message. When you are watching or reading or hearing a story, those "aha" moments don't come when you come across an entirely universal, clichéd phrase or moment that you have seen a million times before. Those "shock treatments" occur when you come across something that you were convinced was completely unique to you... but watching or reading the piece makes you realise that, wow, actually, somebody else has had exactly the same thought or experience... isn't that funny? Those touching reactions can only be achieved with heartfelt honesty. They cannot be manufactured. And so, that is why I love films like Garden State. Of course, they are not for everybody. Which is exactly what makes them so special.