All Good Stories Begin and End in the Heart of a Man . . . or a Woman

I just finished watching Last of the Dogmen for the fourth or fifth time, and I am still under the spell of powerful storytelling. The story itself is good, but what makes it special is the narration by Wilford Brimley. Oddly, the narration was added after filming and over the objection of the writer/director who was so upset by the use of supplementary text that he refused to write Brimley’s words. Apparently, in some versions of the movie, the narration was subsequently cut way down and redone in another voice, probably in response to viewer complaints since most people seemed to think the narrative annoying, so I’m lucky to have the version I do.

What’s interesting about the narration from a writer’s standpoint is that it’s a good example of tell don’t show. Normally, showing is the way to go, but there are many intangibles that cannot be shown, especially in a movie. What’s interesting about the narration from a viewer’s standpoint is that it adds a different dimension to the film, taking it beyond a fantasy/romance/western into the category of myth.

Broken heartThe narration starts out with Brimley intoning that “the story begins where all good stories begin and end — in the heart of a man . . . or a woman.” I like that line, mostly because of its truth. If a story doesn’t delve into what matters, then the story doesn’t matter. Another line of Brimley’s is “Sometimes you have to put your faith in something you can’t see.”

And that, of course, is why the movie speaks to me. Both characters are searching for something beyond their ordinary lives, as am I, and they find wonder and mystery they could never even have imagined.

Perhaps we are all looking for what lies beyond the façade of normal life, because really, how can this culture of ours be the apex of billions of years of creation? There must be a world of wonder running concurrently with this world of wage slavery and commercialism. We can’t all find Dogmen, of course, but we can find . . . something.

For thirty-four years, I did find “something.” Although I wasn’t looking for it, I found love, companionship, connection with another human being, which was magical in its own way. And now that he’s gone, I want a different form of magic, though I couldn’t even begin to define what I am looking for. Just . . . something.

And that “something” lies where the rest of my story is — in my heart. It’s just a feeling I have, that there’s something out there — or in me — to find. In Joe vs. the Volcano, another favorite movie of mine, Meg Ryan tells Tom Hanks, “My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”

While living in a state of constant total amazement sounds exhausting, it would be nice to waken just once.

As for movies, apparently what appeals to me in film is the mythic quest. Joe vs. the Volcano, like Last of the Dogmen, is another story of people finding what they never knew they were searching for. And it’s a story of luggage, but luggage is a topic for another day.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

4 Responses to “All Good Stories Begin and End in the Heart of a Man . . . or a Woman”

  1. spamtooth Says:

    Good read! I think being raised in the mundanity of this generation’s corporate-fueled society brought me to some realization that life is more than a constant money-suck into conformist oblivion. The way stories are told, I think, needs to center around characters and their journeys. If not that, then how can our own personal journey be affected by it – and why are we throwing money at it? At the same time, the thrill of the hunt for the purpose of life can also be accentuated by the initial ignorance to the fact that we are, in fact, on the hunt. If only more narratives served society in such ways.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I love the way you phrase things. So true that life is more than a constant money-suck into conformist oblivion.

      I thought only people who knew they were on the hunt were on the hunt, but I like your suggestion that we all are, whether we know it or not.

      Great tagline on your blog: Society’s reality is a dream’s fatality. Somethng for me to think about.

  2. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    Recently I feel I have come full circle. A decade and a half ago I lived in a coastal suburb called Cronulla. I had some acting lessons with the local theatre there but script writing wasn’t on the agenda. This was disappointing. It was and still is a lovely stage and the kind of audience you get tend to be young in more ways than one.

    Well, I went to live in another coastal suburb further south and put the little theatre out of my mind. Then last year I decided to see a production of Calendar Girls there for old time’s sake. Unfortunately, it sold out quickly and I wasn’t able to get tickets.

    I did, however, visit their website and found that new scripts were now welcome. It was a challenge of sorts. The upshot is I’ve had one play I wrote staged already and two likely to be staged this year. All because of Calendar Girls, a play I never got to see, and memories of a little theatre I was once very fond of and I am fond of again. I suppose not having a play staged there at Cronulla a decade and a half ago was my baggage, or at least a small regret.

    In many ways what goes on in a small, live theatre is magical and I am amazed at being part of it in a way I never thought I would be. Unlike a movie or a novel, you know immediately whether or not you have the audience with you. They want to be on your side but it is up to you to get them there. They want their share of the magic, too.

    Some plays have to involve tell as much, if not more so, than show simply because of stage limitations. Also the audience is called upon to use more of their collective imagination. A couple of chairs, for example, has to be the interior of a train carriage because it would be impossible to get a real train carriage on stage with limited funding. Not to mention that it wouldn’t fit.

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