by Sharon Stevens
“Once more into the fray,
Into the last good fight I will ever know..
Live and die on this day.
Live and die on this day.”
from The Grey
I have a pet peeve, one that is not black or white.
Let me explain it this way. Here I am watching a movie and BAM right out of the blue, I see fingernails attached to hands, attached to arms, attached to a body pop right up to my line of sight directly into my psyche. Within seconds an entire mood is gone, vanished, vamoosed, disintegrated and destroyed forever and ever amen, and all because of fingernails..
My husband and I were watching, “The Grey” with Liam Neeson at the Varsity Theater in Canyon. What a powerful movie filled with the most tremendous scenes of beauty and savagery in each frame. The story comes from the novella, “Ghost Walker” by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers with the screenplay co-written with director Joe Carnahan.
This night in the theater, the cold of the Alaskan wilderness permeates the air around us even with the heaters going full blast. On screen the silence of the deep snow and roar of the bitter wind fill us with frozen dread. The sense of the snarls echoing deep within the spirit of the wolves pulls us to the heart of the struggling men on their desperate journey.
And this brings me to the peeve.
A movie MUST be consistent with every frame. Nothing can be left to chance. Every second needs to be seen through the eyes of both those who critique a movie from every angle along with those who treasure a good story. There can be no in-between, no understudy, no rest for the weary. Everyone from make-up, set design, technical crew, costumers, directors, actors, musicians…they all have to come together for one common goal, with the final destination of the craft, the gift, the movie. No if, ands or buts.
This is where the fingernails come in.
To me there is nothing worse than to be watching a war movie with fighting men, farmers plowing the fields of their family farm, or construction or oil field workers out on the job site miles away from a shower or toiletries of any kind. Lo and behold a close up reveals the actors with perfectly manicured fingers, with every cuticle and every pore obviously softened with high dollar lotion, and perfumed with expensive scents.
At that moment, when I see this egregious error I know instantly that these are simple actors paid for playing a part. After the scene is over they will return to their million dollar homes, solid gold bathroom fixtures, and trillion dollar lifestyle.
To see perfect fingernails is a terrible distraction that pulls me out of the movie, breaks the mood, and destroys the meaning.
But let me be perfectly clear. This was not so with “The Grey”. You can tell from the first to the final scenes that Liam Neeson once had nails that were trimmed and clean as he kept himself groomed not only for himself, but also for the love of his life. In the end his hands are torn, stained with blood and dirt, the past embedded deep into his skin.
Those of us in the audience knew that these hands were attached to the same arms, the same body, the same scars, the same spirit all the way from the first frame to the ending shot after the credits. There was absolutely nothing that pulled me away or distracted me from the depth of the story.
Each of us as writers should always stay true to everything we set down in our writing. We can never be distracted while trying to fill our characters with the visions we imagine in our minds or what we seek for them in our hearts. We MUST cherish each word with clarity of what our readers will perceive. This is just an extension of the show don’t tell equation. And even though we know nothing is ever black or white, but every shade of grey, we owe our readers at the least that much.
All the way down to the fingernails.