Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tyler in Remember Me - The Human Face of Tragedy

For this Tyler Tuesday, we have wonderfully in-depth article by Jessegirl. In this article, she discusses what makes Tyler the way that he is and what steps he must take or is taking, in order to move his life in a more happy direction and to heal from the hurt.

by Jessegirl

Who is Tyler Keats Hawkins? Well, in a film chock full of symbolism, he is biggest one.

Tyler is The Symbol – capitalized.

He is the symbol of 9/11 losses.

He is the human face of the tragedy.

He is the one sacrificed, so we will think about it, so we will know, but most of all, so we will feel.

Tyler leads us, guides us, to conflict, to loss, to love, to healing.

And, he is the Symbol of our deepest losses.

This character is also the core of the film, the centre, the hub around which all else revolves. Because he has been so perfectly brought alive in this film he has the power to become a touchstone, leading us to those deep places within ourselves which we need to find in order to become more fully human.
Wow! All that? –Well yes, and more, actually.

Get real, some say. He’s just an ordinary, mixed-up college age kid who isn’t enrolled, who works at a dead-end job, smokes, drinks, sleeps around, gets in fights recklessly and has an obnoxious air of self-righteousness. Right?

Some critics have stayed at this level of perception. According to them, he “sips existential angst” [James Plath:DVDtown.com ], while “boasting a smug nihilistic attitude” [Prairie Miller:Newsblaze.com ]. He has the “archetypal soul-of-a-poet bad-boy schtick [Alistair Harkness:Newsscotsman.com ]. He is “a directionless NYU student who drinks, smokes, and shags around” [Alice Tynan:The Vine.com.au ] and a “rebel without a clue” [David Medsker: bullz-eye.com]. The most scathing indictment I’ve come across is from S.T. Airsdale [Movieline.com]. Quote: “Tyler may be a whiny bitch you just want to drop-kick into oncoming traffic...” Whoa! Thems fighting words! Which, I’m sure, was what Airsdale intended.

These negative criticisms of the character are, I think, based on a view they share with Tim Robey [telegraph.com], who says, “we never quite twig what Tyler’s problem is”. Well, yes, if you don’t understand Tyler’s problems, you might just skim the surface and not have a clue. Thanks for that admission, Mr. Robey.

On the other hand we have Kirk Honeycutt [TheHollywoodReporter.com], who gets it. “Tyler...brother’s suicide has pulled the rug from underneath him. He is a lost soul, and it’s not clear he’s going to snap out of his funk anytime soon.” Now if you know anything about the effect of suicides on their loved ones, especially on an impressionable adolescent who found his brother’s dead hung body, you will know that Tyler suffered a class-A trauma. Both he and his family would deal with their internal devastation, guilt and unresolved issues for years to come. That’s the nature of the beast.

Yes, it’s been six years since Michael Hawkins decided to end his life, but “snapping out of the funk” is hard work. Grieving is hard work. Seen in this context, everything we know about Tyler shifts. Even little things we observe about him inform us that he is lost, but fighting his way back to life. For example, Tyler has photos of Michael all over his apt. Ally asks, “Who’s this?” and Tyler answers. When a guest asks, Tyler can acknowledge Michael’s existence out loud. This legitimizes it. So every time a guest asks, Tyler is forced to go to that internal place again.

He leaves himself open to callous comments and also trusts that the person who will take him into his pain will be sympathetic. He deliberately, if subconsciously, leaves himself vulnerable, and keeps open the door to grief. This is something he has to do, and it is a brave thing. A young man his age, unmarred by such a life-altering event, would be all about bravado not bravery, invincibility not vulnerability. In so many ways Tyler is ordinary, the Everyman, but in other ways, he is extraordinary.

When we meet Tyler, apart from a few key commitments, he is living a marginal existence by choice. He actively and deliberately protects and supports his sister, Caroline, props up his mother, and is determined to break down his father. However, the rest of his life is really just existence he floats through in a preoccupied haze. What absorbs him?

Well, his brother’s death has raised huge existential doubts and questions in Tyler, and, until he resolves them, he is stuck. One of those is coming to an acceptance or peace about Michael’s death. Another is finding the will to live. They are wrapped up together.

Nothing can happen unless he takes care of this first, and Tyler knows this instinctively. So we have him clearly not paying attention to the Miami brunette’s slurred come-on, yet hearing someone calling ‘Michael’ in the alley. He’s not in the moment at all. He’s in his own inner world.
As I see it, Tyler has three key tasks on his plate when we meet him.

1) Working through his grief, his unresolved issues with Michael, finding acceptance. His journal is his homework. This is the first and foremost task, but it is aided by the others.

2) Getting through to his dad, who has chosen a form of grief which disengages him from his family, especially his children. Caroline and Tyler need him. This task is crucial.

3) Engaging in life fully, coming back to life. Tyler is, I think, only dimly aware of this. He can’t see this goal, not until Ally comes into his life.

Until these tasks are completed, Tyler will live his partial life, because, you see, he is questioning the value of life. His formlessness, his lack of ambition, rage, sense of impotence, all stem from this.

Auditing Life: To live or not to live-
Remember when he tells Ally he’s undecided about everything? And later, that he just audits college classes? We on this blog have called it ‘auditing life’. He doesn’t commit to college, or to a woman, and he has no career ambitions. Everything is on hold. Why? Tyler can’t proceed until he figures out, as those close to suicides do, why. What about life itself was so very horrible, but also real and true, that a person would want to give up life to escape it?

The scene in the jail cell with Aiden is about Tyler flirting with danger (taunting the other prisoners –‘pussies’). He provokes them and laughs at Aiden’s scolding—not his finest hour. Tyler is also testing an unformed death wish. He’s punishing himself, but for what? Well, he thinks he must have done something wrong if his father left him. This is a core pain, that horrible feeling that you aren’t good enough. And if you’re not good enough to be loved, why go on? Is that what Michael thought? Should Tyler come to a similar conclusion? That’s the danger Tyler is flirting with.

He is coming close to that state where he believes in nothing, or, is trying it on for size, just like he tries everything on for size. Oh yeah, he’s auditing nihilism too. And apathy. To live or not to live? But underneath, his apathy is fake, a cover, a smokescreen. Tyler is a deep soul who is on the brink of nothingness BECAUSE he cares so much. The auditing isn’t apathy; it is terror.
He knows being invested in anything means you can’t just check out like Michael did. Auditing is place-holding, and giving the appearance of normalcy while he does his real work. His real job is grief.

Tyler’s primary tool for working out his grief is his journal. THAT’S where he’s living his life. He is really alive, but not engaged with the world in front of him, which are two different things. People grieving deeply see the world through a veil; they don’t really engage. That’s grief. I’ve covered the journal in another article [“Tyler’s Journal”, June 13th] so I’ll just say that it is the private place where he processes his grief and also honours Michael. In it he debates existential questions. This is all hard work. You might have noticed that in the film he is seen writing in his journal a number of times in different locations (cafĂ©, bedroom, beach), that he often carries it with him; it’s in his back pocket when he goes to the grave and it’s with him in the tower at the end. It’s a daily habit. He organizes it, wraps previous sections in elastic bands. Now and again a voice over lets us know what’s in it. Violent and intimate thoughts (son castrating the father, Ally’s presence) are recorded in this uninhibited place which Tyler uses to explore and to heal.

Charles is next on the list. Sigh. Much of Tyler’s conflict with his father seems like the normal sparring between the ‘old cock’ and the young one. Their antagonism is evident when we first see them together (“You could’ve worn a tie.” “Yeah, I could’ve”) Then, in the sweets shop, they dominated and subverted what was supposed to have been a time of family solidarity, turning it into their own fighting ground (“Pass the sugar.”).

On the surface, much of this dynamic could be part of old ‘grudges and grievances’, as Rob said, stale, typical father/son stuff which goes on in many families. It is anything but. Again, it exists as a result of the way Charles and Tyler both dealt with Michael’s death.

This specific thing could be the subject of an article on its own. I will try to cover the main points but be aware that the boardroom scene alone is the subject of much debate. Bereaved parents have a particularly tortured path. So Tyler’s mother is needy, clingy, fragile, and he avoids her, feeling smothered probably, and he won’t fight her because she’s broken. But Charles’ way of handling grief is disengage from family life, to avoid his kids and to build a wall around himself. The fall-out from his choice is dangerous. Because children need to be shown love, feel secure in it, and clearly Caroline and Tyler do not feel loved.

Tyler’s task is to break down his father’s wall and get him to SHOW his children love and attention. So, what follows is my partial take on the boardroom scene.

The Boardroom Scene
Ostensibly, Tyler is fighting for Caroline when he confronts his father. But by ‘saving’ Caroline, he saves himself. He is always also fighting for himself. The pivotal boardroom scene is a last ditch effort.

In this corner we have Tyler, coming with feelings of self-loathing as a consequence of his father’s neglect. Both he and his sister desperately need obvious and direct expressions of love from their father. He bursts in, angry, accusatory, full of self-righteous indignation, waving Caroline’s picture. He yells (“Why aren’t you riveted?”), but soon deflates, stutters, becomes inarticulate. He is almost child-like, begging Charles to care. ‘Please, Dad, love us,’ you can almost hear him say. When nothing he says seems to matter, in his anguish Tyler lobs the big reveal: “I found him.” Then he pushes the big button, the warning shot, that Charles’ other children might possibly kill themselves too. This provocative statement has his father lunging at him immediately. But it is also a desperate plea that Charles validate him, that Charles show love so that Tyler will know life is worth living.

And in this corner we have Charles, confident, in-charge, in command of his ‘troops’. He plays dirty pool. For years, he has been hiding behind his wall and shutting out his family and he’ll be damned if his son brings it down. He deflects the issue by drawing attention to Tyler’s immaturity (‘rode down on your bike’, ‘you’re responsible for no one’). As an aside, if you think about it, this is a lie. Because, in Charles’ absence, Tyler has taken on the responsibility for Caroline’s welfare. In so many ways he takes care of his little sister.
But Charles, desperate to remain in his safe place, has, it seems, given up the father’s role in any but the financial way. And he WILL NOT be forced to show love. He insists ‘his troops’ remain in the room to witness the exchange. And because of that, his –‘what you feel in your heart’—was said, not to make Tyler understand, but to grandstand. Charles really does feel what he said, but he uses it to put down his son and make himself look good in front of the audience he demanded stay there. In my opinion, he needed the audience as a buffer because if he was alone with Tyler there’s no telling what would happen,-a physical fight, or worse, breaking down crying, perhaps the catharsis he so badly needs.

I sympathize with Charles’ plight, don’t get me wrong, but to treat his tormented, begging boy this way is terribly cruel. And childish. Nevertheless, he thinks he has to keep up that wall. If it is breached and crumbles Charles will be exposed and forced to face his failure as a father. But Tyler is adamant as well as pleading; some part of him KNOWS he’s got to get through. This is so very necessary, what Tyler does. The whole family structure depends on it. It is what the Gandhi quote—‘because nobody else will’—was referring to. It’s huge.

Charles intuits, subconsciously, that he needs Tyler to call him out. Michael caved. Tyler fights. Yeah, he fights like the man/child he is, using the weapons of the young, like instilling guilt self-righteously. But, bottom line? It was a manly thing. Paradoxically, Tyler’s ‘childish’ behaviour helps him become a man.
The winner in this confrontation? Both of them, but they don’t know it until later. It is like a wound that has festered and finally been cauterized. They are both still in pain from the wound, but the cleansing is working through them, changing them. They begin healing. And in future, they will be allies. Whew! What a relief!

Ally and Waking up
Two down, one to go. Tyler needs to re-engage. Will Fetters said [in a Podcast, June 20, 2010] the central theme was love and Tyler ‘waking up’. It is Ally who, with her quirky individualism and strength, brings Tyler back to life. Tyler can have any toothbrush or Miami girl he wants but only when Ally plays hard to get and makes him work for it, does he do so. She engages him, throws him off in numerous ways—dessert first, lying about her age, almost standing him up, not letting him kiss her goodnight—which intrigue him. So he tries to please her, makes her a cake, plays juvenile games like spraying her with water, and then is nervous about her unusual response. By her unconventional and unique attitude, Ally is taking him out of his normal mind set and it is refreshing. He lets her into his private sorrow by telling her the truth about his tattoo—toothbrush girl got a wise-ass answer, no doubt.
There is much to say about their relationship but in essence she ‘wakes him up’. Mind you, his journaling and working out things with his Dad happen simultaneously. But it is significant that when she runs up to him on the beach and tackles him, she tosses aside the journal. It’s like she’s saying: ‘Forget that. I’m here.’ Now Tyler is beginning to have a real life apart from grief, a real relationship with a woman. Hurray! Of course it’s more complicated, with the revenge scheme, his guilt and confession, her forgiveness, all of which engage his soul.

Unlike Aiden, who is much more straight-forward, Tyler’s soul tortures him with guilt. He has depth; there’s nothing superficial about his inner life. So his achievements are meaningful. For me it was Tyler’s struggle that was so touching. He tries so hard and I root for him. For a man who is confused and preoccupied, he always has his priorities straight. His moral compass is true and he follows it. He takes care of his sister, tries to fix things for his Mom. He takes responsibility for his actions—provoking Neil to beat him up as atonement for the revenge plan using Ally. We see his conscience working. We see him bravely expose his vulnerabilities.

It is his innate decency which matters, his courage to face and deal with his loss, with his father, with his poor choices. We relate to him intimately because we’ve seen him at his worst and his best, we’ve seen his complexity, his humanity. He has become like a member of our inner circle.

“Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch.”
Tyler’s Touches:
Gently touching Janine’s arm; kissing his sister’s forehead; making love with Ally; touching by toughing it out with Neil; lifting the weight off Aiden (of course he did); provoking Charles to lunge; accepting his mother’s kisses. Every time he touches his journal or writes in it he touches Michael.

Emotionally, even when withdrawn, he touches all the time. He can’t help himself. Some of us felt the touches, didn’t we? His look of vulnerability when he shows Ally his tattoo. His look of nausea while watching ‘American Pie 2’. His foot-pounding battered self overwhelmed with frustration and defeat after Neil beat him up. His tenderness when reading his sister a story. And so on.

He touches us. Again and again. Gets into our hearts. That’s Tyler. He touches us because he shows himself. He can’t help letting us see into his soul. That’s just who Tyler is.

And so when we lose him...that way...that day...the tragedy takes on a new meaning. It now has a face, and a story. Under the surface it catapults us to our own real personal losses. And somehow the loss of Tyler and of our own one becomes one big loss. And neither will ever fade.

Tyler stands for it all. He is The big Symbol.

"Thanks to my wonderful colleagues on this site, with whom I developed these ideas during our Remember Me DVD countdown quotes' comments."


RobPattzVzlaFans said...

Thanks Patty, for the analysis of the character of Tyler.

kat said...

Thank Jessegirl, Maria! She's the author!

olejp said...

Very well done!

Anonymous said...

This is exactly How I understood the story and Tyler. I love this film sooo much. This film deserve so much respect. Sad we dont care about authentic raw stories about family and relationships anymore. I am thankfull to everyone involved. I love this site. I love Rob too.

Can we tweet this? People should know the real value of this film.

kat said...

Anonymous ~

I tweeted the link on my remembermefilm twitter account, but please feel free to tweet it out too or link it on facebook or do anything you can think of to get the article out there!

Glad you love the site!

LIZ said...

Wonderful article, thank you. I feel everything you put into words. I am planning to watch the movie on 9/11 with box of tissues and most of all to REMEMBER the Tylers and Janines that were lost that day.

Thanks for being here, I love this site.

Anonymous said...

great analysis of Tyler. The critics were not interested in the film. They were there to trash the "boy from Twilight". It was evident in their glee in attacking him.

WhyIstheRumAlwaysGone said...

Great article, jesse, as always. You've covered pretty much all the main aspects of Tyler. I admire you for doing all the research and wading into the quagmire of scathing criticism. Bu ass I keep repeating, critics will eat their own words. There's a sort of grim fun to go back and read their stuff, months after the film was released, and see how there is indeed a huge divide between them and the audience. I am still amazed to see how they doggedly skim the surface and do not seem to be able/to want to understand all the layers and complexities of the character and of the film. Sometimes it's because they've set out to deliberate bash on Rob, sometimes I think it's because they're really obtuse. Or I suspect something else: could it be that they really do not know the nature of grief? The trauma of suicide? That they're so used to the shallow stuff Hollywodod serves us they're not able to handle the drama genre any more? Food for thought... is RM too much for them?
Anyway thanks for this great article!

Jessyh said...

Jessegirl you have my complete love,respect and admiration.You have done a fantastic job,far more superior than many of these "critics".I believe that any other analysis on my part would be redundant.You've said everything I wanted to say and more.Keep this up.

Anonymous said...

I love this website. Your insightful comments about Tyler, how Rob portrays the character is phenonmenal. I love your view on the theme of the story - grief and how different people deal with this in their lives. Fantastic

WhyIstheRumAlwaysGone said...

@jessegirl, just another thought. Quoting you: "Tim Robey [telegraph.com]...says, “we never quite twig what Tyler’s problem is”. Well, yes, if you don’t understand Tyler’s problems, you might just skim the surface and not have a clue. Thanks for that admission, Mr. Robey."
I love your witty irony ;)) but apart from that, I think it's really all about this: reviewers being so shallow, being unable to skim beyond the surface. Why? Is it deliberate, due to prejudice, or is it because they just see too many films? One critic in France admitted to seeing an average of 70 films a month. 70! How can you get perspective and be interested in every film you see? It's impossible. So, maybe this is part of the problem. There's a expression of Paul Auster in the NY Trilogy which I keep remembering whenever I get annoyed by a critic (not only for RM, this applies to every film, or book, or work of art) because he's too blatantly shallow or has done his work properly: I get angry because they "hover stupidly on the surface"... lol.
Great article anyway, and it makes me see new things about Tyler.

jessegirl said...

Thanks, everyone, for your supportive comments.

Rum...regarding the critics: I was reading a critic recently, one disguised as a troll-like commenter on IMDb, but, after much bashing with others on the thread, went on about being a critic and about how many movies he had to watch. He implied that, because he watched so many, he was able to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Do you think that's what they think too? He even said something about filmgoers only watching a handful each month and he watched so many, as if that fact alone would give him perspective.
I think it would mean burn-out and almost built-in cynicism. It's an interesting question.
Like you though, on this film they goofed big-time, to put it kindly. Robey didn't see that it was about grief?? Is he stupid?

WhyIstheRumAlwaysGone said...

@jessegirl, regarding your last comment, I think a bit of everything is true. I'm convinced that seeing too many films would certainly mean burn-out and cynicism in the long run. Plus there's mean little power it gives you to destroy kill someone else's work. You know the old motto : it' so easy to criticize and so hard to create. Plus, even if you're the best critic in the world, you can't always be objective and impartial, every day of your llife, and there's film genres you may not be able to appreciate, ever. I'm not saying viewers are not partial too - of course they are. We all are. But critics have more potential influence because obviously their comments are widely posted and read. They have a public responsibility. And they don't always use it well.
However, what a pitiful thing to be a critic and to have to stoop so low as to go and comment as a troll on Imdb! Lol. Hope you gave him a good tongue-lashing if you could.
In the particular case of RM, lots of comments by critics and viewers make me think people just can't handle grief. Either because they're really ignorant of it (somehow, maybe they have escaped it sofar in their personal lives) or because they just can't cope with such themes. So it's easier to laugh it down and say the film is bad or maudlin or whatever you wnat to call it. The reaction has emerged so often that I think this might be a key to the general bashing of RM. Denial of grief in our society. Interesting, isn't it?

jessegirl said...

Hi, Rum...'easy to criticize, hard to create'...yeah, for sure. But, as you say, when you have a public responsibility you must be impartial, state your genre preferences or remove yourself.

About society and grief: I think I said something in my first article--Oscar--about RM and its significant place in film regarding grief. I think you're right about the denial. You're always so perceptive. But something else, which I can't put my finger on...

Did you see my piece on Rob, part two?

Anonymous said...

Really touching analysis here, thank you. I don't take too much notice of the critics. I paid my hard earned dollars for Remember Me twice in the theatre and bought the DVD because this wonderful piece of art so moved me. I do think Will Fetters (writer) really put himself out there and I am furious at the critics who, as a another commenter said, were just out to trash the Twilight sparkle dude.

I grew up near London and the threat of terrorism was ever present in my life. I had lived in the US for one year at the time of 9/11 and witnessed how deep the shock cut. People seem to want to consign 9/11 to the history books, as a one off. Unfortunately this modern world (I believe) is following a different path and everybody needs to face up to it. Also remember that art dealing with 9/11 is as valid as factual reporting.

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