Saturday, August 21, 2010

"The Harm that Excessive Candor Can Do"

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the scene in Whit Stillman's film Metropolitan in which all of the characters play a truth-telling game.

(transcribed from the DVD)
SALLY: It's called Truth. You stretch a Kleenex over the mouth of a glass and place a dime on it. And we each take turns burning a hole in it with a cigarette. And if the dime falls in on your turn, you lose. And you have to answer, with absolute honesty, whatever question you're asked, no matter how embarrassing.

CYNTHIA: Yeah. The more embarrassing the better. Sometimes you can find out the most amazing things. It can really be incredible.

AUDREY: I don't think we should play this.

SALLY: Why not?

AUDREY: There are good reasons why people don't go around telling each other their most intimate thoughts.

CYNTHIA: What do you have to hide?

AUDREY: No! I just know that games like this can be really dangerous.

TOM: Dangerous?

SALLY: I don't see what's dangerous about it.

AUDREY: You don't have to. Other people have--that's how it became a convention. People saw the harm that excessive candor can do.

CYNTHIA: You admit that it's basically just a social convention, then.

SALLY: What you say might be true among people who don't know each other well, but surely not with us.

AUDREY: Then it's even worse.

CYNTHIA: Okay, let's discuss this. Basically, what this game requires is complete candor. Which means: honesty. Openness. I don't see how that can be bad.

AUDREY: Well, it can.

CYNTHIA: Well then, don't play. But don't wreck it for everyone else.
Now, why has this scene been on my mind? Well, first, last weekend I made the acquaintance of a guy who asked me several impertinent questions about my salary and my love life. He seemed to share Cynthia's point of view: cynically appealing to my notions of "honesty" and "openness" in order to get me to share things I wasn't comfortable sharing. Most notably, he said that if everybody knew how much money everybody else made, there would be less income inequality in the world, and so I should start things off by telling him my salary. And I found myself arguing Audrey's position: there are some things that are better left unsaid. And even if that is just a social convention, the rules are there for a reason. Sure, it's depressing to realize, as a teenager, that human interactions are governed by a series of rules and social codes--but isn't it even more depressing to think about what would happen if there were no such codes?

Another reason that I've been thinking about this scene is that I am trying to write a play about a bunch of teenagers playing a truth-telling game (Never Have I Ever). As much as I agree with Audrey's opinion that such games are "dangerous" (and they always made me so very uncomfortable and squirmy when I was a teenager), it is because they are dangerous that they appeal so much to me as a writer. Whit Stillman makes a similar point in an interview about the film: "In a sense, Audrey’s right, in the short term, about the truth session. It was a disaster, and everyone—except Cynthia—acknowledges that. Yet, in the long term, it saves her would-be relationship with Tom." From a moral point of view, the characters should not play the truth game. But, from a dramatic point of view--if they didn't play it, the movie would end.

Image: Audrey (Carolyn Farina) attempts to explain why she doesn't want to play Truth.


Anonymous said...
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Dr.J said...

Some pedantic remarks: I didn´t knew that Stillman filmed Barcelona
(on location) in 1994 (never watched it) with at least one spanish actor (Pep Munné) probably because of his personal life and the policy of the catalan government to pay for the city to appear on films (i.e. Vicky Barcelona, that recent Allen monstrosity). Quite significantly there is a spanish movie from 1994 too, "Todo es mentira" (It is all a lie) featuring a young Penélope Cruz and the same director made "El juego de la verdad" (The game of truth) ten years later, both about a couple of couples.
So, is it not a bit too obvious...if Metropolitan script dates from 1984 (or so the wickedpedia states) we should be moving but not in circles. Is the cliché "mental onanism" too strong?
then you can put *******