Screening Room

Screening Room

Getting a Life: Whose Story Are You Living Now?

By Frank Pittman

July/August 2007

As we go through our lifetime metamorphoses, we adapt to those whom we like and hate, envy and fear. We fall in and out of love, and emulate and identify with each aggressor and rescuer who comes our way.

Some psychologically ambitious recent films have explored how people shape their identities around those whom they venerate or are obsessed by. Each encounter changes them. The most honored films of last year—The Departed and The Lives of Others—and the best American film so far this year—The Hoax—show us people shaping themselves around one another, merging identities with their heroes and nemeses.

The Departed, which brought Martin Scorsese his long-overdue Oscar, is now out on DVD, with a soundtrack of thick south Boston accents and much-needed English subtitles. The original version of the story was an uncluttered Chinese action film called Infernal Affairs. In any language, in any version, this fascinating story is a psychologically astute exploration of men who may or may not be faking who they are, but spend more energy observing one another than they do observing themselves.

Jack Nicholson is a gang boss who owns Boston, treats it cavalierly, and delights in acting as outrageously as he chooses. Years before, he'd bought a poor kid with a lollypop who's grown into pug-nosed Matt Damon. Smiling Jack guides him into the police department. Damon has an honest-faced harmlessness that lets him move up…

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