1. Is life merely a stage? as Shakespeare has posited, and later Oscar Wilde: "The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast." This film, though well cast, investigates the performative nature of our lives; if life is a stage, can we hide in it? Can we escape into this stage and allow it to become our coffin? The poetry-as-dialogue in this film lends itself to the viewing of life as performative, as expression of imagination and mind, as projective creation. What is real and what is merely our story? The film uses a performative form to examine (in pure meta fashion) what is the nature of story itself, and how do we act as players in the stage of life, in the stage of our generative minds? What stories do we tell ourselves to survive, and are they representative of our actual lives, or are they a dream?
2. The conceptual nature of art, of expression, can become a god in itself. For disdainfully rejecting all lovers, Narcissus, a beautiful youth, was condemned by the Greek gods to fall in love with his own reflection; having pined for this reflection, he withered away until all that was left was a narcissus flower. Recently some conceptual poets appropriated specific victims of violence in America for their art, reading autopsy reports as performance (perhaps going too far),and they were shunned by the poetry and arts community for being insensitive and inhuman, as if their hearts had withered away. These questions of the boundaries of where art can come from set the subtext for this film.
3. It has been said that all stories are either about love (romantic, familiar, community),death (literal, metaphorical),or god (the big philosophical questions: who are we? what is this? why are we here?). Guys Reading Poems hits on all three: what is the nature of love, how does death affect us, and what does it all mean? The film gives no clear answers, as much as it opens the door for inquiry. Milan Kundera says that the novel is meant, "to face not a single absolute truth but a welter of contradictory truths," as an investigation into the wisdom of uncertainty, an interrogation of human truth, which then becomes, "a place where the imagination can explode as in a dream." Guys Reading Poems, then, should be approached as film-as-literature, in that it functions novelistically in its complication of moral position, and expands with multiplicity, in refractory narrative, finding verisimilitude in the articulation of breaking free.
4. In the current world there is an explosion of pathology as diagnosis. What we now call bipolar disorder or schizophrenia was once named artist, poet, or shaman. Our culture leaves little room for the latter, though, and without proper support, the creative turns violent. An artist might need the spark of uncertainty to create, but where is the line? When does someone need treatment for mental health? How do we separate out an artistic temperament from a destructive imbalance? When should someone step in? The film apprehends these questions and gives us just enough, the pieces collapsing together, the knot untying itself in denouement, and we are left with a fine balance of questions and answers, so that Guys Reading Poems both satisfies and lingers, like a great poem cycling through our minds, an old reel of black-and-white film continuing to spin, opening a space to come back to, to investigate.
5. Poetry provides refuge; rather than despair, a boy rises into language, verse; the world not transcended, but emancipated into consciousness; we take this journey, hear the liberating voices, see the eye of a young mind transforming suffering into art, which seems to be the aim of this film, as much of artistic creation can be, so that we can find our own process, and though the film does not offer redemption, per se, the throughline takes us out of the conflict. The mythological components land, or are rooted in this reality, in psychology, perhaps, and thus the poetic journey into the mystical ends with coming back to the world, to the characters, and to ourselves.