I was watching the Brian DiPalma film The Untouchables the other night, and it occurred to me that there was only one actual relationship in this story – that between Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness and Sean Connery’s Malone. Malone and Ness are equals in spirit, though not rank, possessing two equal but necessary perspectives on the same problem: taking down Al Capone. The evolution of these two men’s perspective drives the story forward. The other characters are mostly personalities that serve a narrative purpose within and around this central relationship. It was a useful observation from a writing perspective. Malone and Ness’s equality was essential for the story, and without it the relationship doesn’t really exist. In the best stories I have read or watched this equality feels present nearly every time two characters are together. Nearly, but not always, of course. The prison guard opening the cell door without a line only exists so that the door is open and not closed. He is not equal within the story.
It is easy to forget as we write our stories or as we go about our day looking out from the first person present tense perspective of our own consciousness that the equality of true relationship is actually universal. It is present even with the cashier and the stranger at the bus stop, bit players and extras in my life, but humans nonetheless in full.
I am the leading man in the story of my life, and I can still be surprised when I meet someone new who does not recognize this, who seems to believe, in fact, that it is I who has stumbled onto the set of his movie. This happens only every single time I relate to another human being, and I am still getting used to it. This, I believe, is what the political among us really mean when they talk about the “struggle for equality.” It is the struggle to write our laws to reflect the reality in which we have always existed, just as we struggle to write our stories to reflect the life we have always lived.
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