Thursday, May 29, 2014

Moments of Conception 009 -- The Bathroom Scene from As Good As It Gets

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.

And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the bathtub scene of As Good As It Gets:


So, what did they do right?

Listen for what wants to be written. Simon is down on his luck. Assaulted and nearly killed during a robbery, bankrupt from accumulating medical bills, estranged from his disapproving parents and devoid of creative inspiration. It’s no wonder he hasn’t created in weeks. Simon is a starving artist in every sense of the word. Until one evening, the muse, with her trademark divine timing, materializes in the form of a woman. I love the way it’s written in the original screenplay, “Instinct, sound and the faint glow of hope turns Simon over so that he faces the bathroom, where we have sitting at tub’s edge, a bathing beauty exposing a better than perfect breast.” In this moment, the tortured artist comes alive for the first time in the film. Carol’s spirit infects him with vigor and imagination. His face and posture and voice and attitude shift with the speed of a cool wind’s turn. And before he knows it, his hand starts moving across the canvas. Because the muse was hammering on a pane of glassing yelling, can you hear me? And the artist answered the call.

Don’t take your lightning for granted. Simon makes the crucial creative transition from inspiration to momentum. He doesn’t just register the moment, he rides it. Because he’s smart enough to know, if he doesn’t write it down, it never happened. He’s humble enough to know, art comes through people, not from them. And he’s mindful enough to know, inspiration comes unannounced, and you have to capture it before it vaporizes. Meaning, in this moment, Simon’s job is to take dictation. To stay with the muse, stay focused on the work, stay engaged with the subject, and mine the vein until it’s out. Because moments like these don’t come around all that often. That’s the price of admission. That’s the cover charge he pays to plug into this immense power source. And he respectfully reimburses the muse with his time, talents and tenacity, lest she never darken his doorstep again. It’s a helpful reminder to all creators, don’t stop while you’re ahead, stop when your muse tells you the power source is dead.

Inspiration is a reciprocal transaction. Collaboration built the world. Collaboration is how most of our ancestors used to work and live. And the work of an artist is no different. Carol claims that what she needed, he gave her. But let’s not forget, what he needed, she gave him too. It’s the third law of motion. We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own. And that’s the delightful irony of this scene. Simon is gay. Melvin even asks him earlier in the film, “Do you ever get an erection for a woman?” to which Simon patiently shakes his head no. Meanwhile, this moment of conception, this energy exchange, this highly sexual yet wholly plutonic exchange between two consenting adults, is the hottest, most memorable scene of the whole movie. Proving, that if we want to influence the people around us, we ought to pay attention not only to what we do that gives us energy, but what we do that gives others energy. Oh, and Helen Hunt is one foxy mama.