I don’t even really know how I came to know about it – Morgan Freeman’s presence probably – but the other night, Philip and I watched The Magic of Belle Isle*. It was a lovely, sweet film with a simple story about a writer who has lost his way and is brought back by the candid words and desires of a young girl.
In the film, young Finn asks Monte (Freeman’s character) to mentor her in writing stories, and Freeman agrees with some reluctance that is brought on by the fact that he hasn’t written anything in a long time. But still – as you would expect for a character played by Freeman – he gives her good wisdom about the work.
Here’s my favorite:
Don’t tell me what you see. Tell me what you don’t see.
In the film, this advice is literal. He doesn’t want Finn to describe the street as it is but as she imagines it, and that’s great advice for a fiction writer, for sure. But for me, a creative nonfiction writer at heart, I heard it this way: “Write what isn’t obvious. Write what is hidden. Write what is hard to lay words to.”
It’s advice I need to hear again and again because, well, it’s so easy to write what’s right there at hand, but the easy is often the trite or the too-often stated. We need the richness and sometimes darkness/sometimes light that hides below the surface to tell the most deep truth.
The film isn’t perfect. As much as I admire Freeman’s acting ability, the fact that another able person portrayed a disabled one bugged me since it would have been lovely to seem someone who was paralyzed actually play the role, and the romance – it’s a small part of the film – was a bit unnecessary and overwrought I felt.
But still, there’s a gentleness, a dailiness of the film that I appreciated. It was soothing to watch a story without car chases and violence (although I don’t mind those things most of the time), and it was lovely to see truth laid out without flashiness.
So I recommend the movie, especially if you just want a kind story that might get you writing a bit more or a bit more deeply.
Have you seen The Magic of Belle Isle? If so, what did you think of it? Do you have other films that you recommend for writers?
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