I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel (2014) - full transcript

On the first day of shooting, James Franco, David Shields, and Caleb Powell throw out the script when a real-life argument breaks out between the three of them about what can and can't be used in the film. Shields and Franco browbeat Powell to sacrifice everything for the sake of the film; Powell threatens to leave; Shields feels guilty about betraying Powell; and Franco wants Shields and Powell to confess all for the sake of the film. A debate, nearly to the death, about life and art.

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(glass breaking)

- It's an ancient tradition
going back, frankly,

to Plato and Socrates
and going up to Car Talk.

There's a number
of books and movies

where two white guys
bullshit, essentially.

Two psyches argue,
Apollonian and Dionysian,

art and revel, mind and body,

control and dis-control.

And (coughs) I wanted
someone to argue with me,

someone who embodied
the critique that

of mine have offered that
I'm sort of too interior,

too self-reflexive,
not engaged enough

with a larger
political, public world,

too devoted to art,
have no hobbies,

am not saving the
Lost Boys of Sudan.

And Caleb really
embodies a lot of that.

He's read a lot of my
work and doesn't like it.

He's among the most quarrelsome
people I've ever met.

He imagines himself as this
super down, political guy.

He believes in the
traditional novel.

He hated Reality Hunger,
various books of mine.

He just has every position
of every dumb reviewer,

every misspoken notion
of members of my family,

and he just is that.

And so I love the idea of this
sort of existential journey

in which Caleb almost
too perfectly embodies

every critique I've ever
heard from age 10 'til now.

I'm honestly kind of
scared in the sense that,

to me, he's a
really strange guy.

There's something, to me,

sort of implicitly
sociopathic about him.

And I mean, there's part of
me that feels there's a one

in a 1,000 chance
Caleb will kill me.

I swear to God, I
mean, he's just a,

to me, he's an unusual guy.

And there's something
violent about him.

I don't know if it's
just emotionally violent

or psychologically violent
or physically violent.

He's a somewhat physically
imposing fellow.

In some level, he scares
me, and I guess I believe

in this idea, you
know, of placing myself

in harm's way.

I believe in that as part
of a writing project.

So here I am literally
placing myself in harm's way.

Halfway, or early in my career,

about a third of the way
through my writing life,

I had written three novels,

and trying to write
my fourth novel,

I just no longer believed
in the traditional novel.

All the machinery of the novel
went completely dead on me,

and so for the last, my
goodness, 15 or 20 years,

I've been quite
actively involved in

of sort of genre
blurring non-fiction

but also writing some books

about how exciting
such forms are.

I want him to question
everything about my life.

I tend to (coughs),
to think of him

as a guy who always wanted
to become an artist,

but he overcommitted to life.

He's a stay-at-home dad
to three young girls,

whereas I somewhat
pathetically have always wanted

to become a human being,
but I overcommitted to art.

And I wanted to question
everything about me

to see if I've made a lot
of bad choices in my life.

Caleb, I think, just wants
to have a really good time.

(trunk slams)

(dog barks)

(knocks at door)

- Hey!
- Hey, man.

Ready to roll?

- You bet, let me get my stuff
and say goodbye to the wife.

- [David] Okay, all right.

- [Caleb] Goodbye, sweetie.

- [Terry] Goodbye, hon.

Have a good time.

- Okay, thank you.

Should be open.

- [David] Is it open?

- [Caleb] Should be.

- You're bringing your
golf clubs, Caleb?

- Why would you think
this is a golf club?

- Well, it says Iron Bag.

- What do you think
I'm gonna do this?

(David laughs)

- What is it, your
guitar or something?

- That's what it is.

- Well, it says Iron,
it says Iron Bag.

- That's just a coincidence.

All right, you ready?

- All set, let's go.

Did you see that article,
Caleb, in the Daily, at all?

- [Caleb] They
already got that out?

- [David] Yeah, it came
out last night online.

- [Caleb] I haven't seen it.

- [David] I don't
know if you saw it.

Just some kind of
innocuous profile of me,

but you were hilarious
in the way that you,

every other student
was awfully nice

in their comments toward
me, and you were--

- [Caleb] What'd I say?

Can you read it?

- I'll see, I don't
know if I have it.

I have it on my phone somewhere.

("On the Mountain"
by Mark Matos)

♪ I was walkin'
to the mountain ♪

♪ I was walkin'
to the mountain ♪

♪ I was walkin'
to the mountain ♪

♪ With my good friend

"It wasn't that I
didn't like him,

"but I put up an
attitude in his class

"that I didn't like some
of the books that he liked.

"I thought that the class
wasted time studying authors

"and stories that
did nothing for me.

"And I felt like I was the
only student in the class

"who felt a certain way."

- That's legitimate.

What's wrong with that?

- "We grew to," anyway
it was sort of funny.

It was like anyway, that
was just a strong statement

that, you know, the
feeling was mutual

that we disliked each other.

Did you feel that I
didn't like you in class?

- I kind of felt you avoided
some of my pushback sometimes.

- Well, you're a very
obstreperous fellow.

I mean, you're very--

- I mean, you know, that
was what, 25 years ago,

22 years ago?

- Right.

- What do you think?

Did you like me?

Wow, I'm gonna hang out
with Caleb after class and--

- The reason that I sought
you out on this project

is that very quality that
drove me crazy in class,

namely that, you know, you're,

as they say, in-your-face.

You're confrontational.

You're contentious, quarrelsome,

and you drove me crazy in class.

I think of My Dinner
with Andre as our model,

in the sense that two
people are fighting

for their philosophical lives.

Maybe it's not, you know,
the Cambodian refugees

that you pretend to
be interested in.

- Right.

- You argue your position.

I argue my position.

And, you know,
frankly the reason

I sought you out is that,

in amazing serendipity,

you so perfectly articulate

and embody an awful
lot of the positions

that I've had to think through,

through Laurie, through
my sister Paula,

through reviewers,
that everything you say

about insularity, blah,
blah, blah, are things--

- I'm sure you've heard it.

I think my views
can be a little,

I would like to think
it's more challenging.

- Can I bring us back to My
Dinner with Andre for a second?

- All right.

- Which is you told me that
was a weird model for you,

because your dad thinks
of My Dinner with Andre

as two, quote, homos arguing.

Like, what planet
is he coming from?

He thinks of that as being--

- Last night, yeah, yeah,

- Two gay guys or something?

- I go, "Oh."

And he goes, "So what's this
big art project you're doing

"with your old professor?"

And I said, "It's,
you know, we're trying

"to do an argument
about life and art,

"and one of our models
is My Dinner with Andre."

- Is that a film
he would have seen?

- And he goes, "All right,
isn't that about two homos?"

And I go, "Why would
you think that?"

He goes, "I just thought
that's what it was about,

"two guys having dinner,

"talking about their
homosexual relationship."

(David laughs)

You know, when you first
broached the idea was

in November of
2010, and you said,

"I'd like to collaborate
on a book with you.

"It's gonna be an argument
about life and art.

"And let's have a big
rumble and talk about it."

So I come over to your
house, and, you know,

first time I've ever met your
wife, and I come downstairs.

And you sit down, and you
say, "All right, Caleb,

"what I'm looking for is a,

"what I would like to have
is homoerotic tension.

- Well, not in the moment.

I didn't want homoerotic
tension in my office.

- No, no, but--

- I wasn't, like,
coming on to you.

- You got to be pretty,

but I mean, but you
had to have thought,

I mean, you're like
thinking this out,

"Caleb's coming over,

"and the first thing
I'm gonna say is,"

it just didn't occur to you
that I might misinterpret it.

- I guess I'm comfortable.

- You just didn't, it
just didn't, you just,

I guarantee you if I
brought anyone over,

like of my basketball
playing crowd

and said, "Listen, I'd like
to do a project with you."

And I invite them
over, and I say,

"Okay, what I'm looking for
is homoerotic attention."

They'd probably punch me.

- Not attention,
that's a fascinating

- Did I say attention?

- Yeah.

(Caleb laughs)

- Dude, you got to
get it together.

- Okay, homoerotic, no,
you're just hearing attention.

- Homoerotic, no.

- Homoerotica

- [Both] Tension.

- Yeah, okay,

you got to get your syllables
there, but any case.

- And so ever since then,
I've told my wife about,

you know, I told my wife not--

- You told her that I--

- Not about, well,
I did not tell her.

She does not know about
the homoerotic attention,

and I'll tell you
why she doesn't.

- You're back to
homoerotic attention.

Caleb, it's homoerotic tension.

- I'm saying tension,
homoerotic tension.

- Okay, well, anyway.

- I'm doing this, and she's
like, "Okay, you're planning

"for date weekend
with David Shields.

"What are you gonna do?

"You're gonna go out there,
and then he's gonna say--"

- Date?

She calls this a date?

- Date, she calls
this date weekend.

We're going out for
this date weekend.

- Why, I mean, first of
all, just to clarify--

- "What would you do if
he made a move on you?"

And he said, "I guarantee
you'll get published,

"and then he makes
a move on you."

- Well, first of all,
I can't guarantee

you'll get published,

and I can guarantee I
won't make a move on you,

'cause so far as I know,

I mean, every human
being is on some level--

- So it didn't occur to you?

- To what?

That I was coming, I mean, no.

I mean, I am fairly
comfortable with my sexuality.

I have no qualms with
anyone's sexuality.

I happen to be 100%
straight so far as I know.

And so for me the homoerotic
tension, not attention,

was meant as, you know,

basically two guys
going off for four days.

For a cabin, it sounds

you know, sort of weird.
- Start spooning?

- And so basically,
the point was I thought

that we should
address it in our book

and then in our movies, in
the sense that, you know,

it shouldn't be
this hidden tension,

that we should just broach it,

so it doesn't become
this weird subtext.

Why would your wife,
why would your wife--

- I haven't told my wife about
it, 'cause she teases me.

And it kind of relates to
her, but you know, she's--

- What do you mean?

Is she gay or something?
- She got married

when she was young, no, no.

- I can see if she's gay
that she'd marry you, maybe.

Ha, ha, ha, but why would--

- My jokes are bad, at
least my, you know--

- Why would gay be a
big button for her?

- Now it's time for
me to talk here.

- Okay, I'll shut up.

- She got married at the end
of college to her boyfriend.

He was in shape, a jock,

on the good career track.

They got married
for about a year.

Things started acting odd.

They got divorced, and then
she started hearing rumors

that he was gay, and
she confronted him.

And he said he was
gay, and he apologized.

- Did he know he was gay
going into the marriage?

Or he was trying

to convert himself?
- I think he discovered it.

I mean, he said that
he never did anything.

He had no gay experiences
when he was with my wife.

- Very dubious, very dubious.

- She doesn't know
how to process that.

But she just basically
suppresses it.

It's over, she got through it.

She doesn't want to think
about it ever again.

- I see.

- But she's always asking
me if I have gay fantasies.

And, you know, "Would
you do that guy?"

- Whoa.

- And, you know, her
ex-husband's name is Mark.

Her ex-husband's name is Mark.

And I always say, "What,
you trying to Mark me?"

She tells me about this big
date weekend with David Shields,

and what would you do
if David hit on you.

And I said, "What, you
trying to Mark me?"

(David laughs)

- That's a great line.

Can she laugh at that?

- Well, you know, I love her.

She's very, you know, but to
her, it's a very serious thing

that I don't know how
much I want the world

to know about this, you know.

It's personal.

- It's fascinating.

- It's her pain.

I don't know how
comfortable I feel

about mining other people's
pain and bringing it in.

("Rocket Man" by Mark Matos)

- [David] Man, it's foggy.

- [Caleb] Are we
gonna need chains?

- [David And Caleb]
Do we have chains?

♪ Wish I was a walkin' man,
no talkin' man, a rocket man ♪

- [Caleb] All right.

- [David] We're really
entering snow country here.

(Caleb grunts)

The rain's turning into snow.

- [Construction Worker]
Two-wheel drive vehicle, right?

- Two-Wheel or four-wheel?


- [Construction Worker]
Four-wheel, you got chains?

- We got chains, yes.

- Yeah?
- Yes.

- [Construction Worker] You do?

- [Caleb] We do.

- [Construction Worker] All
right, you're free to go, sir.

- Do we need to put 'em on?

- When the snow comes.

You can't put 'em
on without snow.

- [David] Oh, I see.

We'll put 'em on when
the snow comes, I guess.

♪ I wish I was a growin'
man, a knowin' man ♪

♪ I would show it, man

- It is interesting how each
of us had a trauma of sorts

that happened in high school.

I certainly wouldn't compare.

- No, your trauma's--

- Well, just the
height, you know,

I had this really
bad broken leg.

And there was a fear
I'd be crippled.

And I had this
horrible broken leg.

I was playing a game of
football on the beach.

They tackled me.

I landed in this
huge, kind of gully,

or whatever you want to
call it, in the sand.

And I had an
unbelievable broken leg.

My left foot was tickling
my right ear, you know.

I looked like a pretzel.

And I remember 200 people
surrounded me on the beach,

and they all just said, you
know, that boy will never walk.

He's a quadriplegic or whatever.

It was quite horrific.

You know, that was
a big flip for me,

where I went from playing
sports to playing chess

to being the editor of
my high school paper

to wanting to
write, and you know,

there's all kinds of
formative events of my life,

but at least in the
family mythology,

this broken leg turned me
from kind of athletic doofus

to someone who
was more interior.

I don't think
that's exactly true.

- [Caleb] My accident
had a similar effect.

- Did it?

Do you feel like that?

- [Caleb] I think that's the
root of me becoming an artist.

- Whoa, that's a little fancy.

What, you suddenly
became Picasso,

'cause you were
in a car accident?

I mean, how do you mean
becoming an artist?

- My senior year was miserable.

It was probably the
low-point of my life.

There I was, you know, kind
of just starting getting

into like drinking
and, you know,

going to these parties with
my friends and all that,

but I was just driving
home, and I always sped,

and I just didn't wear my
seat belt and ran into a tree.

- [David] Whoa.

- Put me in a coma for four days

and in the hospital
for two months.

And they let me out
and let me whatever,

and as soon as I go out, I
just started acting very odd.

Well, I wanted to go to
the high school dance.

And my mom was gonna
take us to the dance.

I'd been out of the
hospital couple of days,

and I was kind of like
getting back together

with friends and all that.

And she just said,
"You're not right."

So she drops them off, and I'm
like really angry at my mom

and said, "I want
to go to the dance!"

And moped in the car
while she's driving.

But finally, she gets
me home and calls,

she probably called 911.

And a police officer
came and said, "Listen,

"we're gonna take you
back to the hospital

"for an examination.

"If you're fine, we
can come back home."

And my mom signed me in
as a voluntary patient.

So I had my little One Flew
Over the Cuckoos Nest moment.

And I just had, you know, I
mean they had to medicate me

and kind of keep me in a room.

- I guess, I'm just trying
to think of how did it,

you mean, this was your first
experience of suffering?

- You know, you just don't
think about death as a kid.

I mean, I think artists
think about death.

So I, you know,
started thinking about,

you know, religious questions,

getting more
interested in writing.

I've become much more insular,

and, you know, taking long
walks just so I could think

and started even
dabbling with poetry.

And, you know, it probably
took about three years

before I actually said I'm
going to become a writer,

but you know, I
wasn't even close.

I mean, some people
start, you know,

having a literary mindset
when their 12, 13, 14

or even earlier.

But I realized at my age,

I'm beginning to
feel this big weight

of having not achieved
one of my first passions,

which was writing.

- Well, there you go.

- Now I'm like kind
of starting over.

- Interesting.

- And, yeah.

- Well, this is your
golden opportunity.

We got to kill this, right.

I mean, you want to
do maybe bigger things

than our little, humble trip.

Here's our chance to--

- Yeah, definitely.

- Reanimate both your

art and my life.

Boy, it's chilly.

(David grunts)

(keys jingle)

Oh, good, I had
nightmares of no opening.


- [Caleb] Okay, what do you
think, pretty nice, pretty nice?

- You've stayed here

before, haven't you?
- We're home.

- Caleb?

- Yeah, yeah, I've
done some work on it.

- Uh huh, yeah.

- Helped build the deck
and did some roofing.

- Pretty nice.

(lighter clicks)

I'm the world's worst fire
starter, so be warned.

I'll do my damnedest.

I can't tell you how
proud I am of this fire.

It's the first fire

I've ever started.
- I'm impressed.

I kind of thought you'd
burn the house down,

but it looks like it will work.

- [David] It's not a bad start.

- It is, I mean, it's
paper underneath wood.

I mean, after that, it's kinda--

- [David] I know, but I am--

- All right, that
works, that works.

- [David] I'm Bertrand Russell,

who couldn't even boil
water, so I'm thrilled

that I've got--
- How true is that?

- It's literally true

that Bertrand Russell
figured out the planet

but could not boil water.

- I kind of feel that he just
had other people boil water.

- [David] There you go.

- Play some chess?

- Sure, okay.

- Check.

- Check, just like that.

Well, I'm just sort
of playing to play.

We'll make sure that I
don't lose in seven moves.

- You can't just play to play.

- You know, I've read
your work over many years.

I'm just gonna go here
for the hell of it.

You know, if I had a
critique of your work,

I hope this is okay, who knows?

It's that, I don't know
if it makes any sense

for me to say,

that your work sort
of lacks an X factor.

It seems to be
full of the world,

but it has no shaping metaphor.

It's not making any meaning.

The core of art is
to make meaning.

And as much as I admire your
investment in the world,

that when I read your
work, it seems to me

to stand next to the
world and not make it

into some kind of
larger X factor,

some metaphor, some meaning.

You haven't driven it through
your heart, through your mind.

That's rather, you
know, that's my point

that I would want
to push toward you

that in all of your
swallowing of the world,

you have to figure out
how to gather the material

and remake it in your
own voice and vision.

- Well, I mean,
you raise a point

that writing should do more
than just evoke the world.

I mean, it should do as
many things as possible.

You know, if you're writing
efficiently, expediently,

you are doing that.

Are we still waiting
for you to move?

- No, I actually moved to here.

- Oh, you did.

Oh, I'm sorry.

- Yeah, Mr.
Irrational, Illogical.

- I'm sorry, check.

- I guess it goes
back a little bit

to our idea about
suffering and what the role

of suffering is in your
understanding of life.

- I think it's a topic that is,

you can't write enough
about, just like love.

- We know people suffer.

We know that meth addicts
tend not to, you know,

have happily domestic lives.

I mean, you know, got
it, got it, got it.

- Right.

- I want you to bring
your intelligence

and transmute it into
meaning, knowledge, art.

Instead, it always stays
weirdly lumpen as clay

and just is like
guess what, world?

There are human beings out
there who are suffering.

Like, alert the media,
no fuckin' joke.

In a very admirable way,

you're an incredibly
conscientious human being

who, you know, is afraid
to take people's sorrow

and use it to exploit it

to opportunistically
transform it into art.

That takes 12 people's pain

and turns it into maybe
10,000 people's revelation.

I mean, that is the risk
the artist has to take.

At worst, he is a
ruthless exploiter,

an opportunistic asshole.

At best, he or she is a--

- But what you said is

what a very poor work
of art, you could say,

Nicholas Kristof's Half
the Sky has already done.

Are you familiar with that book?

- Well, I don't think it even
pretends to be a work of art.

- Right, but a work of art
is so esoteric, inaccessible,

that no one gets that.

It has the 10,000
people that have MFA's,

and they're all
going wow, this is,

whereas Nicholas Kristof
sells 800,000 copies.

- A New York Times columnist,
who has a built-in platform,

is relatively--
- But he does

the exact same thing that
you're talking about,

and it's not art.
- Namely what?

Just list--

- He's saying, "I'm not
trying to create art,

"because I don't want
to have an audience

"of a few very
intellectual, elite people.

"I want everyone--"

- Well, I think he's playing
at the water level he's at.

I mean, this is
the way he thinks.

- I'm just saying you
have a narcissistic goal

of trying to communicate
to 10,000 people

that feel the same way
about you about life.

- In no way is

that narcissistic.
- Whereas someone

who doesn't want to
be an artist says,

"I actually want to help society

"and get people a little bit
more aware of the world."

And that's the difference.

- Wow.

- He doesn't want
to be an artist.

And I don't think, you know,
he's not doing to sell out.

He's just saying, "Hey,
infibulation Africa,

"I want the world
to know about it."

- Right, well, if that is
what your actual goal is,

then in a way, we have
relatively little to talk about.

You want your work not just
to change things tomorrow.

You want, I hope,
your work to be read

in the next generation,
as a work of, on some,

you got to have a goal, I think,

of lasting, literary art, no?

Is that a meaningless
goal to you?

- That's a fair evaluation.

I mean, I feel
like in some ways,

when I was your
student at first,

I probably felt more like
you feel now than I do now.

When I wanted to create the art,

and I didn't care if
eight people loved it,

as long as they really
loved it and appreciated it

for what it's worth.

- And what has changed
for you in that way?

- I've spent eight
years overseas

and, you know, 10 years total,

but eight years seeing some

of the most miserable
places in the world

and reading the newspapers there

and walking through Karachi,
Pakistan, for example,

and just knowing
it exists there.

Yes, you can know about
it without going there.

And, yeah--

- Well, maybe then you're
barking up the wrong tree

in the sense that you, I mean,
it could be that you need

to lead a deeply,
politically engaged life,

in which you are, you know,
are working in helping

to save the Lost Boys of Sudan.

- But writing has that power.

Not all writing is great art,

but great writing
can have that power.

And maybe that's
where I want to go.

- Interesting, well--

- And I mean, I
take what you say

as far as it's the professorial,

instructive voice
of David Shields,

and yet at the same time,
I'm still questioning exactly

what direction I want to go.
- You honestly question that.

That you really,
that you'd be fine--

- I haven't resolved it myself.

- You'd be fine
standing on a soapbox

as someone who helps the world?

That would be--

- I wouldn't want
it to be empty.

- That's a good line.

An empty soap box would be what?

- A moral placebo.

- Right.

- Something where I
feel better about it,

and no one else does.

(phone chimes)

Hold on, hold on.

- That's probably Peru there.

- Wow, hold on.

Hey, Gia, what's up?

Not bad, wow, so you're, wow,

you're like here, right now?

Okay, you're coming
tomorrow, great.

No kidding.

You're not gonna believe this.

Hold on, yeah,

I think that's cool.
- Can you put her on speaker?

Put her on speaker.

- I'll give you a
call afterwards.

- Put her on speaker.

- But yeah, I think
it's totally cool.

- Put her on speaker.

- And we'll have to hook
up tomorrow, all right.

Hold on.

You're going on speaker.

That's cut.


- [Gia] Hello, can
you hear me now?

- We can hear ya.

- Hi, Gia, it's
David, Caleb's friend.

- [Gia] Hello, David.
- Anyway,

you're interrupting
a conversation,

and by chance, you're
all of a sudden here.

And so we're doing that.

But yeah.
- [Gia] Okay.

- That's awesome
that you're nearby,

and we'll see you tomorrow.

And you have to give us a
call when you get nearby.

- [Gia] All right,
well, for sure.

- All right, I'll give you
a call later on, all right.

- [Gia] All right,
talk to you later, bye.

- Okay, bye.

I have this friend, Gia.

She's a friend of a
lot of the friends

I hung out with in Seattle,

and some of the stuff
we ended up not putting

in the book for a good reason.

But she now lives
pretty close to here.

She's in-your-face.

She's an artist.

I mean, she's studied fine art.


- [David] And she'll
come up here and draw us?

I'm not sure.
- And you know,

back in the day, she did
a little side dancing

to help her get started.

She's the sort of a
person you dismiss.

She's part of the real world.

- [David] Ooh, the real world.

- [Caleb] I think
we get her up here.

Maybe she'll bring a friend.

It'd be interesting to
see what you would do.

You live in academia,
and you only hang out

with other people
that live in academia

or that are very intellectually
high-powered and elite.

You don't want to
bring someone in,

because she's not
gonna add to art.

And if she doesn't add to art,
you don't want to see her.

- That's kind of nice,

that your point is you got to
start with the chaos of life,

whereas in a way, I
always want to start

with the cathedral of art.

So I think your
point's interesting.

The only qualifications
I have are one,

we have to use her name.

Two, this conversation
has to be in.

- [Caleb] Well,
hold on, hold on.

- [David] Three, she's got to
bring a smoking hot friend.

(Caleb laughs)

- And four, when she comes up--

- [Caleb] So she has to
bring a smoking hot friend.

- [David] And four--

- [Caleb] What if it's just her?

It shouldn't matter.

- [David] Well, then we
can do a two-on-one action.

I just don't want
to see you naked is

the only absolute,
unbreakable claw.

(gentle guitar music)

♪ Well, I ain't got no

♪ Big dream

- Have you ever
heard of this line?

I forget who said it.

Mediocrity knows nothing
higher than itself.

Talent instantly
recognizes genius.

- You're right.

I mean, to me, it's a
somewhat overloaded term.

This person's a genius.

That person is a genius.

To me, it's an--

- Have you ever told someone
you're a genius, or felt--

- No, that would be ridiculous.

- The diva genius syndrome?

- No, I mean, I think
that would be absurd.

- Nothing would make you happier

than getting a MacArthur.

- I mean, of course,
every writer,

who has published a book, has
such delusions of grandeur.

You know, I'm always interested

in how much talent
does one have?

And it's an interesting
question to me.

What makes a great athlete,
like say Michael Jordan,

or, you know, Bobby Orr, or
someone who's just otherworldly?

And you know, you hope
you have some real talent.

I have certain minor gifts,
which I've tried to push

as hard as I possibly
can, but to me,

this is a story I've
probably told before,

so shoot me if you've heard it.

It probably appears
in a book or two.

I heard a guide at
the National Gallery

showing people some
paintings of Mark Rothko,

asking people what's
so great about,

do you know this story?

I've used it too many times.

- I'm gonna let you say the
whole thing, but (groans).

- But anyway, people say
what makes Rothko so great?

The paintings are beautiful.

They sold for a lot of money.

People have written
criticism on 'em.

And the answer according to
him was he changed the weather.

He changed the conversation
for everyone after him.

And it just fascinated me.

What gets you to
that highest level?

And I guess that, for me, I
want, by the time, you know,

I'm 78 and, you know,
dying of whatever,

or I hope that at 98,

I felt like I've gotten to
the bottom of my talent.

I've expanded it, et cetera.

And so how do you get
to the height of talent?

What's genius?

What's mediocrity?

And I don't want to be mediocre.

I want to try and say
at the end of my life

I've produced work
that, you know,

I hope, in my fantasy--

- [Caleb] Okay, I
have a question.

- You know, changed
the conversation

for the next generation.
- I have a question.

- Nothing less.

- If you could choose
between creating

two works of art, and one is
what, in your own opinion--

- I'm afraid what this
question's gonna be.

- You have achieved genius.

You've achieved beauty.

It wrenches the soul.

And then you have
this other work of art

that's pretty mediocre, but

the mediocre one
would sell a lot.

Would you rather have
a best-selling mediocre

or an unpublished,

work of greatness?

- I would say
that's an easy one.

Of course, I'd take the work
of extraordinary bravery

and power, 'cause I would
feel it on my bones.

And I would feel, I
don't know how you could,

I thought you were gonna ask
a more difficult question,

which is, I'm glad you didn't,

but the question would be a work

of amazing grace and power
and beauty and truth,

or a work that somehow
managed to help everyone.

- Ah!

- And I thought that
would be the hard one.

I'm not hugely handy
in the kitchen,

but let me know if
I can do anything.

- [Caleb] I'm a Nazi.

It's a one-man show.

- Okay, when Laurie gets--

- You like mushrooms, right?

- I am a mushroom fan.

When Laurie gets really drunk,

she'll say you only married
me to take care of you.

That's sort of her
brutal drunk line.

So I'm none too handy, but let
me know if I can do anything.

- She's taking care of you?

Is that really how it works?

- Not exactly.
- I mean, don't you make

more money than her?

- Well, that's her sort
of drunken critique

if she's (coughs) a little lit.

She'll take me back to (coughs),

to us meeting at Ragdale,

and me being sort
of swooning over

her many abilities as a,

you know, she's a great cook.

She's a great electrician.

- Yeah, that's how
I look at my wife.

I mean, you know,
she's very practical.

- Uh huh, I'm not
trying to rub it in,

but do you bring in
any income, a little,

a tiny bit from writing.

- You know, I did a
lot of construction.

But I've never made more
than 20,0000-22,000 a year.

That's the most I've made in
any one year of my entire life.

That was in construction.

- And ever since the kids
are born, you're pretty much,

that's been your
job, is raising--

- Yeah, I've done a
few blue-collar jobs,

but you know, to
get someone to look

after the kids and all that,

I end up making less
than 10 bucks an hour.

I'm honored, I get to be
with the kids every day.

I get to be their best
friend, and that's awesome.

- I mean, in some way,
you must have a relatively

secure ego to do that.

I'm not sure.

- I get comment like her--

- Do you get the Mr. Mom
comments sort of thing?

- Yeah, I get Mr. Mom comments.

- How do you process this?

- I'm playing basketball,
and like, I'm the housewife,

or I'm a stay-at-home dad,

which yeah, I do laundry.

I make coffee for my
wife in the morning.

I've gotten to be
a much better cook.

- Seems like you're auditioning

for the Oprah
Winfrey Show hailed

as Dad of the Year.

I mean, you sound
like you're honored

to be with your children.

Don't you ever
crave writing time,

reading time, cerebral time?

You're a thinking human being.

- I've got like late at night,

or if I wake up, you
know, like, four or 5 a.m.

Those are my moments.

And I've got to carve out the
time when I can, but yeah.

- You really sneak it in.

How is she about you writing
about stuff about her?

Well, I guess we talked
about this project,

but what rules exist
in your family?

For instance, there's
stuff that I want to get

into this movie about
some friends of yours

that we've been arguing
about off-screen.

I want to get that in.

- I'll betray myself,
but not, you know,

there's some things
that can't go in.

- On the one hand,
you're saying, "Oh David,

"but you never live."

I go, "Okay, Caleb,
you supposedly lived.

"Let's bring this in."

And then I want to
bring in these people

who are supposedly,
according to you,

these strippers and drug
dealers, and you're saying,

"Oh no, God forbid."
- I never said that!

- That we can't bring them in.

- I'm saying this is a fictional
device we can bring in,

but it's fictional.

- Well, wait a minute, I mean,

this is a non-fictional

Suddenly, you're
telling me this person

who gave you a call.
- I can tell you a lie,

but that'd be part of the,
but it'd still be non-fiction.

- But this person that
called you the other day,

that wasn't fictional.
- She's a real person, yeah.

She's totally cool.

She's a sweet girl.

- You're telling me that she's--

- She's a single mother.

- You're telling me she's
this sort of exotic dancer,

which is code for stripper.

Which one is she?

- I don't have any
verification of that.

- I don't know if you're
just concentrating

on the mushrooms, but do you
have any thoughts on all this?

- I'm distracted.

I really can't think, you know.

- Right, well, I'll try to--

- I mean, after what we
talked about earlier,

I mean, I was serious.

It can't be in.

- The whole stripping stuff.

- No, no, no, you
can't even say it.

You can't even say it.

Anything about it,
can't be in, period.

I mean, it's that
important to me.

I mean, I got to get promises.

I got to get written promises.

It can't be in.

- Right.

- If it's in, I mean, I'm
not gonna, I don't know.

I'd rather have no movie.

- Whoa.

- It's that important.

- Well, I mean, I think you're--

- I mean, I've had
long discussions.

It can't be in.

I mean, we can, we can--

- What can't be in?

- Exactly.

- No, no, what?

- You know what
I'm talking about,

but we can't talk about it.

What I don't want to
be in, can't be in.

And there's no movie.

If it's in, no movie.

I'm talking lawsuit.
- You'll pull the plug.

You mean, if I name names--

- Yeah.

- If I name names,
the movie's over.

You would pull the plug.

- If I tell you what they did,

which I told you in confidence,

and you've already told
me that it's not in.

It's not in.

There's no way it's in.

- Okay.

Well, I've, you know,
I've skirted around.

- I'm gonna need guarantees
that it's not in,

'cause that's such a big
secret to them, it can't be in.

- Well, even our discussion?

- Our discussion about,
right now, this can be in,

'cause no one knows what
we're talking about.

- Right.

- But it has to remain that way.

- Well, I feel like it's
a bit of a dry hustle,

where we're promising
strippers and drug deals,

and we're gonna deliver
long dissertations

on Reality Hunger, but um--

- See, even mentioning that,
you know, you just, you know.

- But, well, let's
bring in Franco.

I don't know if Franco
will come in here

and promise you anything.

Do you want him
to come on screen?

And you want him to
agree to that, or not?

- I don't know.

Does he think that
would be a good idea?

- [James] If I could jump on?

- Okay.

- [James] I'm just gonna say,
I'm gonna throw this out.

And we don't have to have
this argument right now,

but this is all good,

so don't stop.

All I'm gonna say,
and I hope, David,

you just take on my argument.

I didn't bring in Gia.

I didn't bring in this
mysterious person on the phone.

You're bringing her in,
but you're making this--

- I wanted just to be a friend.

- [James] These rules about
how we can bring her in.

So this is our movie,
we all decided on.

You decided to bring
this person in,

and now you're saying
how we can talk about it

and getting upset about it.

So that's a little weird to me,

and it's something
that's very, I think,

vital to what you guys are
discussing and all of that.

So you can bring me in,

or you guys can,

I think David can take my
argument and run with it.

- If you're not willing to
place yourself into discomfort,

you're almost by definition
not creating art.

And I guess, maybe
for better or worse,

I'm a huge devotee of, you
know, uncomfortable art.

Why is it such a
vexed issue for you?

I mean, I'm asking honestly.

Why is it such a vexed issue,

to mention that a couple
people that you know--

- 'Cause I promised
them I wouldn't do it.

- As simple as that?

- Yeah, you know.

(Caleb stammers)

- What do you want to
do, punch me or what?

- I don't know, I
just, I don't know.

I have a soliloquy.

I don't know.

I've shut down, you know.

- Shall we try and eat?

Is it off?

- [Caleb] Yeah.

- I know that you're

Don't worry, okay.

This is a safe place.

We're all doing this.

- [Caleb] I got ya, I got ya.

- For the same reasons.

- I know and part
of me has this doubt

that maybe you guys--

- This is what we want.

We want you uncomfortable.

This is what we want, you
guys talking about this.

This is a very great issue.

And it's obviously
very alive for you.

So don't shut down.

You can trust
everybody here, okay.

I'm not gonna make
anybody look stupid.

- I mean, there are things
we have to, we can take out.

I'm just trying
to make it alive.

If you want to talk to me
or Franco before going on--

- But I mean, the
thing is, the thing is,

we'd already had one.

Now you're like
doubling down on me.

- I'm just, I mean, the nothing,

I don't know if we're
on or rolling, but um--

- [James] I think we
should just go, Caleb.

- My point is that this film

and the book are so aggressively
about the relationship

between life and art.

I'm frankly more
interested in our argument

that necessarily having
Gia show up in a G-string--

- In the book, we say there's
some things that can't be in,

and you say, "I agree."

And I say, "I agree."

And we agree, and that's it.

- What would you think of
when Gia comes, asking her?

Would that be cool?

- We can do it.

- Okay, is that a deal?

- We can do it.

- All right.


And if she says no,
if she says no, then--

- I want--

- Written--

- You know, the
promise, you know, yeah.

- I like that.

So we're building
sexual tension,

rule one of Film 101.

- Right, if she
says okay, whatever.

- That seems fair.

Let's eat.

- All right.

Are you in on that?

About my sister-in-law and
her friend nothing be said?

(James laughs)

Straight up, just say it.

- I knew nothing
about that woman.

I did not introduce the issue.

When I see something come in,

that I didn't bring
in, and I say okay,

it was a little safe in
the car on the way up here.

Oh, here's something
that's alive,

and it has very
much, it's an issue

that I'm also very
concerned with.

- [David] What, the
phone call, James?

You mean, when Gia called, or
what are you talking about?

- What you're both
two talking about,

what you bring in,
what you keep out.

When you bring
certain things in,

it has an effect on your life.

And do you make that
sacrifice for the art,

or do you say all right,
I can't talk about this.

Even though it
will make the movie

or the book or whatever
a little less alive,

I can't talk about it,

because it'll have
an effect on my life

or on somebody else in my
life or how people see me.

That's a very
interesting issue to me.

And so that's what I
think we're talking about

in a very alive way.
- It is.

- [James] It's not
feelings involved.

- It's not theoretical.

- I just don't want to
stop the discussion.

Relax, guys.

- Beer time, huh, I like it.

The beer at 10,
you may need to--

- [James] Just keep
this camera rolling.

- I'm sorry.

- [Crew Member]
We got to fix it.

That needs to be on.

- [James] Be quiet over there.

- I like for once
it's not theoretical.

Like, it is definitely,

there's skin in the
game, as they say.

You know, like a lot of
the stuff I theorize about

in Reality Hunger,
Enough About You,

How Literature Saved My Life.

I feel like Caleb is
almost literally trying

to save his life, and I'm
trying to save our art.

(gentle guitar music)

- [Caleb] You got to admit.

It's a little brisk,
a little chilly,

but this is pretty
gorgeous, huh?

- [David] It's beautiful.

I pretend not to love nature,
but it's hard not to be--

- [Caleb] I kinda wondered.

I thought, you
know, city slicker.

- [David] Stymied
and stumped by this.

- [Caleb] Am I gonna be able
to get him out on a hike?

- [David] Yeah, it's
pretty gorgeous.

- [Caleb] You like to hike.

- [David] Yeah, I
do like to hike.

- [Caleb] I thought
with your gimpy back,

you'd be stuck in your--

- [David] I know.

- [Caleb] Your dungeon
writing your whole life.

- [David] I'm like
this pathetic old man

who has to watch his every step.

But I definitely love hiking,

'cause I've got this
really weird back back.

- [Caleb] All right.

This is gonna come off
as kind of corny, but--

- [David] Do you have any advice

in terms of walking in snow?

You're a more
experienced snow guy.

- No, I think it's
kind of common sense.

It's kind of like walking, but
it's a little more slippery.

But you're kind of
the city slicker.

I'm just wondering, have you
ever changed a flat tire?

- [David] Well, confession time,

you are quite the confessor,
or I was pushing you

to be a confessor during
breakfast, but no,

I haven't even come close

to changing a flat
tire in my life.

- [Caleb] What a confession!

- [David] Right, not too big.

I don't know how to
dive into a swimming--

- So you've never changed
a flat tire, ever, ever?

But you've gotten flat
tires, so what do you do?

- [David] Call Triple-A.

- You call Triple-A?

- [David] Yeah.

What do you do?
- What's that?

- [David] Do you
actually change a tire?

- [Caleb] So you have to wait?

Yeah, it saves time.

- [David] Or Laurie
changes the tire.

- [Caleb] You have your
wife change the tire?

- [David] I don't know.

Maybe I just am not--

- [Caleb] She's just doing it,

and she's just
looking at you going--

- [David] Way to go, David.

Can you dive into
a swimming pool?

- Yeah, who can't?

- [David] I do kind
of a total belly flop.

Every movie is supposed
to have a twist,

and I don't know if you
believe me or not, but

if some of the earlier
twists were pushing you

to (coughs) confront some

of the limits of your art so far

or our big argument
over breakfast,

I mean, I do feel (coughs)
to a surprising degree,

a kind of black heart

over my moral failure to follow

the promise that we made.

I mean, I really feel horrible.

I mean, I don't know if I'm
performing feeling horrible,

or if I genuinely feel horrible,

but I feel really
empty in my stomach.

- [Caleb] You don't even know
if you really are feeling--

- [David] Well, that
we are doing a movie,

and so I guess I just would say

that I felt sort of
seduced by the camera.

I felt directed by the director.

And so I was trying to get us

into uncomfortable
territory, and in so doing,

I feel like (sniffs) I
truly violated a trust.

And you know, I don't know if
you believe me or not, but--

- [Caleb] I think part of you
definitely feels that way,

and I appreciate you telling me.

- In a way I feel like, Caleb,

that we're just trading one
set of problems for another.

One, we started out arguing.

First of all, we started
out disliking each other

as student and teacher.

Then we started out
with a bunch of reviews

where you push back.

Then a bunch of emails
that we flamed each other.

Then we did a argument in
Skykomish where we argued a lot.

Then we argued about
how to edit it.

Then we argued about me
twisting somebody's arm

at a reading, not
literally but figuratively,

trying to urge her
into the project.

Then we were a bundle of nerves

before shooting
this film of sorts.

Now we've got a new problem

of this whole (coughs)
how much do we sacrifice

for life and art.

- I've already, ironically,
I've proven myself,

and even foolishly,

I've played with fire
by bringing people

that are close to me into it,

my family, my
friends and myself,

and you haven't
dived into a pool.

(David laughs)

- Yeah, touché.

- I mean, your life basically,
you read a lot of books.

Your own life is pretty boring.

Okay, you have a
high-pitched voice,

and you get called
ma'am on the telephone.

- It's a tragedy.

It's a an existential
tragedy, I tell ya.

- And there's nothing?

There's nothing that
you've done that I mean,

I'm gonna say, I imagine--
- Unspeakable secrets?

I think I am a mixture
of bravery and cowardice.

I think that's fair.

Like, I try to be, I mean,

I think blood on the
page, you can't prove.

I think of my work as having
quite real blood on the page

in how literature saved my life.

I talk about suicidal feelings.

I talk about how stuttering
has made all emotions

feel second-hand to me.

I basically feel
like, in many ways,

a kind of walking dead man.

And I try to use art both

to resuscitate the
walking dead man

and to try to capture a
contemporary condition

of anomie, of a feelinglessness.

I feel like if my work has
bravery, it has the willingness

to face feelinglessness.

And that might be a
rather self-glamorizing,

but I feel like
because of my stutter,

which might seem like
a minor hiccup to you,

all emotions feel
very third-hand to me.

I see everything through--

- I think growing up,
there's definitely--

- I see all emotions
through glass.

That's a pretty
horrible confession.

- All right.

- I'm a chilly
asshole on some level.

- Yeah, you're an
evil spider at times.

You're very

Sometimes, your warmth, which
I do think there's some there.

There's humanity, but
that's the whole point.

I mean, you're doing this.

I've always wanted
to be a writer, but

And this is where you're
trying to be a human.

What I think you
need to realize,

and I think you do is
you're a literary critic.

That's your art.

You basically have started
writing literary criticism,

because you realize, first
it was fiction that went.

And okay, you are now
appraised of the essay,

but that slowly went as
you realized you had less

and less life to write about.

And now you've become
a literary critic.

To me, it's a very,

it's an antithesis to art.

- Sure.

- But basically, you're
trying to champion art,

and if that's what
you want to be, fine.

- Small potatoes.

- And you're always
saying that, well,

you're half-brave,

and I don't see any
heroic gestures.

- It's as if gee,
you're a physician

who is diagnosing
a terminal patient.

I mean, it's not like I
haven't sort of thought

about all these things.

It's not like this
does not concern me.

Why do you think
I sought you out?

Why do you think I--

- Again, where's your passion?

Where's your danger?

You're always
writing about danger.

- This is dangerous,

what we're doing, I mean.

I've never felt more
uncomfortable in my life.

I mean, I actually am quite
nervous how this will come out.

- You should be!

- And I'm curious how
today will play out.

- You should be.

- And I'm hoping how
tomorrow will play out,

and I'm hoping that we
will have partial control

of the final result.

In no way, do I write criticism.

I just don't.

- I just think it's very ironic

that a book titled
Reality Hunger,

and really, it's
escaping reality hunger,

because every time
you write about art,

it's your desire to get away
from reality and embrace art.

And you just have this
desire to push reality away.

- I see what you're saying.

- I mean, look at
this, look at this!

Look, look!

- Well, it's a very
pretty postcard.

What do you want me to do,

to write a Gary
Snyder poem about it?

- You are writing

about Jackson Pollock.
- That's not

the gesture I make.

- 'Cause you're not

seeing that.
- First, can we please

pronounce the guy's
name Jackson Pollock.

He wasn't a Pole.
- Jackson Pollock!

Jackson Pollock, so
he, or Mark Rothko.

- Yeah.

- That's reality!

- Where do you think Jackson
Pollock's work came from?

He was from the West.

All of his drip paintings
are a translation

of the Wyoming landscape in
which Pollock grew up in.

He experienced this and flipped
it into his drip paintings.

- You don't see beauty in that?

It's by far more beautiful

than anything Pollock could
ever come close to creating.

But if you look at--

- Like, if you had to
ask me, if I had to look

at this the rest of my life
or a Jackson Pollock painting,

I would definitely choose
a Jackson Pollock painting.

- All right, I'm
gonna risk myself,

something that I
didn't tell anyone,

and I did it because I
thought it would be good art,

but it's something I don't,

and perhaps I shouldn't
feel embarrassed about it,

but it's something that I do.

I was traveling in
the South Pacific,

and I arrived at this, uh,

in Western Samoa.

And there's this gorgeous woman.

And she's like a couple
of inches shorter than me,

really pretty face, nice figure.

I'm like what!

She's like, "Hey, ho,

"you want me to show you.

"I will show you around the
island, and we can have fun."

- So you meet her.

- So I go back to the hotel,

and I'm hanging out
with all the people.

I remember, there's like
this German guy Bernard,

and this Australian
gal named Carol

and this Mallory couple
from New Zealand,

and this Norwegian guy
and his Samoan girlfriend.

So we all go out together.

We're dancing and having fun.

And I've got this
girl on my arm.

- What's her name?

Do you know her name yet?

- Ah, man!

I forgot her name.

Kathleen, we'll
call her Kathleen.

- Okay, Kathleen, an unlikely
name for a Samoan beauty.

- She had a Western name.

It was a weird, it was like
Deborah, or it was Margaret.

- I see, an American name.

- It was an American name.

- I got ya.

- She said her real name's
too difficult to pronounce.

- I see, Kathleen
we'll call her.

- So I'm dancing with Kathleen.

I'm just like whatever,
and the Mallory couple,

Lucky is the guy's name.

He's just, "Oh, you
are such a good couple.

"You're so beautiful."

And they're giving me
drinks and everything.

And I'm like wow, I mean,

this is Heaven!

Finally, everyone leaves,
and I'm with this girl.

And Kathleen takes me, and
I'm like just sitting there.

And she's just, "Hold
on, let me do this."

- Let me do what?

- And she gives me a blow
job underneath the table.

- This is standard
operating procedure.

- This is the only
time in a public place

that something like
this has happened.

And I'm like, "Wow!"

And, you know, okay, I
was having a good time.

And so it was finished,
and I tried touching her.

And she was, "No, no,
it's okay, it's okay."

So I get back, and it's the
same group of six people.

Everyone's like talking about

what a fun time
we had last night,

and Noella, the Norwegian
guy's girlfriend,

says, "Do you know it's a man?"

- Who's a man, her boyfriend?

- And I'm like, "What!"

No, Kathleen.

- Kathleen's a man.

- They all knew about it.

They all knew that
I was with a guy.

None of them saved me
or told me or anything.

They just were like
talking about me.

And not only that, Kathleen
knew that they knew.

- Uh huh, how?

Because she had
been with that guy.

- Because she had already tried,

and they were like,
"You're a guy, no way."

- And did you have any--

- And so everybody
knew, except me.

- Well, see, like, no harm done.

Like, in a way, that's
an interesting story.

You know, thanks for--

- I don't want
anyone knowing that.

- Well, I think they do now.

I mean, as you say,
it's in the book.

It's in the movie.

And I think, I mean, to
me, the whole point is

that we all go around sharing

our tabloid secrets.
- It's not like

your little trauma of
not diving in the pool.

This is something that I haven't
told anyone for 20 years.

It would cause people to--

- Will Terry freak out?

- She would, she will,

I, you know, I mean, she's
obviously gonna stay by my side.

- It is a little
funny, 'cause she did--

- If my dad reads that he,

and the homophobia is on
him, but he's, you know.

- Right.

- But to the extent
of the family, I mean,

I could get the, you
know, I'm gonna be the guy

who has this in his past.

- In the book, you talk
about how you also wrote

another story that was
about how you were invited

to a birthday party by
a woman whom I taught.

And you ended up dancing
with and going home

with a guy who also
appeared to be a girl.

- I had a previous transsexual--

- And it's like, it's
like that's interesting.

And it's like that you
seem to be, you know,

thoroughly heterosexual,
and if you happen to be gay,

that's cool, too,
if you're bisexual,

but I mean, is that just
pure coincidence to you?

- It's just coincidence.

- Do you think you're
drawn toward, I mean--

- I genuinely thought
they were women.

- Were they, how many
years apart were they?

- Maybe three.

- Three, did they look alike?

- No.

- In broad terms?

- I was just super drunk

and probably with a male
slut mentality at the time.

- I wonder if you were quite
drunk in both occasions.

- Yeah.

- Was that part of it?

- Yeah, yeah.

No, I mean--

- I mean, I don't mean
to bum you out about it.

I mean, there's
where I'm interested,

because the moment it's one,

it's like that's
a salacious story.

The moment it's two,

sometimes human patterns
are interesting.

To me, what it's
all about is the,

I mean, this will sound
rather pretentious,

but it's all about the
quality of the investigation.

It's not the level
of secrets you tell.

It's the level of the
investigation of the secret.

So it's like I'm
interested in it,

but I'm really interested in
the meaning you can make of it.

- [James] So you're all about
reality, Reality Hunger.

Put reality into the work,

whether it's fiction
or non-fiction,

bring yourself to the work.

That that's your interest.

That's your, you know,
that's your thing.

But if you don't have
anything to put in

that is going to disrupt
a part of your life,

let's say you had a
little bit of material

that might actually get another
part of your life messed up,

maybe gets you fired
from your teaching job,

because you put this
material in the book,

to me, that's the
kind of material

that you are always saying
to me, "Well, you got

"to put more of that in there.

"Don't hide.

"Put that in."

Well, okay, I will, but it
might have a very serious effect

on these other areas of my life.

But it's also a much
easier stance to take

if you don't have any
material to man up

or anything of equal stakes
that I have or Caleb has.

- Do you get that?

- That's powerfully said, James.

- That was pretty
well done, all right.

- And I would say, you know--

- Do you have anything?

- [James] Would you
put something in the

- Would you disrupt your life?

Would you disrupt
your life for art?

- [James] Get you
fired as a professor?

- That's powerfully said.

Well, I guess I would
say if my work--

- He agrees with the aesthetic.

- If my work is so
boring, why did you want

to film us?
- You don't apply to yourself.

- If my work is so
fucking boring, why--

- [James] You're still
not answering my question!

- Yes, I am, in the sense that--

- The answer is he has nothing.

- Oh, you want to
go to teaching job?

If I'm so fucking boring,

why was I paid $5
million to do this movie?

Why was Caleb paid
almost $5 million

- There's nothing that
would disrupt his life.

- Anyway, it's a
very good question.

- He'd have to make up a secret.

- You have, in a way,
what do they call,

hoist me on my own petard,
or however it goes.

Will I write a book that
will jeopardize my marriage?

We shall find out.

Will I write a book that will
undermine my teaching job?

I don't know what
that secret would be.

But I think that's
powerfully said, James.

You marshaled the argument well.

I think that my work opens
up my nerve endings more

than yours or Caleb's does yet.

As to whether I would, you know,

I don't have a multi-million
dollar career at stake,

so in a way my stakes
are even lower.

You know, I make like
120 grand teaching.

I make around 50
or 60 grand a year,

maybe a little more,
publishing books.

You know, I make a
decent middle-class life.

- Jeez.

- Would I, what'd you say?

- I said jeez.

- Jeez, that's good
or bad or pathetic?

- It's comfortable,
it's comfortable.

It's upper middle-class.

- Only very recent, did I
even make a decent income.

But I don't think the kind
of work I care about is

the writers I love
from, you know,

Petronius writing the Satyricon

to Maggie Nelson writing Bluets,

they aren't books that
necessarily jeopardized

their marriage or
their profession.

They expose their
own nerve endings.

So I guess I would
say to you James,

you marshal the
argument powerfully,

but I would say I'm
not necessarily looking

for career-dismantling things

or relationship-dismantling

I'm looking for
icon-demolishing things.

And I feel like that
this film, in a way,

is an attempt to dismantle.

I'm hardly an icon, but I
stand for little things.

And I'm trying to push Caleb
and me to dismantle some

of my easily held positions.

But thank you.

I mean, I don't know
if I want to be all

kiss and make up,
but thanks, James.

That's a well-marshaled

(somber music)

I feel like we were
scrutinizing, in

my own aesthetic,
the limits of it,

the strengths of it,
the delusions of it,

but I think that just to
turn the tables a little bit,

you know, the term
I use rather glibly

to describe my
thoughts on your work,

you know, just that it
risks the idea of being

sort of evil tourism
or atrocity porn.

- Atrocity porn to you is
just, you know, the rush

that people get when
they hear of atrocity.

And for mainstream people,
it's Silence of the Lambs.

Atrocity porn, to me,
is more than that.

It's a way to, in
essence for me,

to make me feel alive,
and I think, to me,

the greatest example
is Waltz with Bashir.

It's a documentary.

It's animated, and it's
about September 1982,

the Sabra and Shatila
massacres in Lebanon

in a Palestinian refugee
camp after the assassination

of I think it was Phalangist,

either military
leader or politician.

- By the Israelis?

- No, probably by one of the
Palestinian insurgencies.

And so the whole thing is,
Ari Folman's the director,

and he's recounting
being a soldier.

And in essence, they allowed it.

They enabled it.

They even lit the camp.

You know, they knew that
the men might be rounded up,

but they started
seeing actual women

and children being lined
against the walls and killed.

- They being who?

Wait, they--

- The Israeli soldiers.

One of these soldiers,
he gives you this image

of going into the camp,

and looking at the
bodies, and the voiceover,

the looking at the bodies, and
then he's already mentioned

that he saw a girl, a
baby girl, or sorry,

a six-year-old, five-year-old
girl with curly hair,

a pretty face, on top
of this pile of corpses.

And so here you have this scene,

and then all of a sudden,
the voiceover stops.

It's just kind of these scenes
of the carnage in animation.

And then the animation
dissolves into the real footage.

And it's the first real
footage that's seen.

You still have the
wailing and the noise.

Then all of a
sudden, it's silent.

And the last 30 seconds go on,

and then the last
(sobs), the last scene

of the film is a
baby girl with curls.

And so I don't know
if it's art or not,

but it just really
destroyed me to see that.

And I can't get
it out of my mind.

- That's incredible.

I mean, are you okay?

I mean, you seem so upset by it.

- And so, I mean,
these X factors,

I mean, maybe, it gets to the
thing you were talking about.

- That's extraordinary.

I mean, I've never seen you
so vulnerable, obviously.

And I don't know
what to, I mean,

it is interesting that in the--

- Every time you kind of poke
at me with atrocity porn,

I'm thinking this.

- Well, obviously, I don't
mean to, you know, in any way,

mock the seriousness of
your engagement with that.

I'm just, you know,
very moved by it

and somewhat shamed by it.

Do you have any sense of why

that film pulled such
profound emotion out of you?

- Perhaps being a father
and having a daughter.

- Right, three daughters, yeah.

- It's an obvious connection.

- Right.

- It started where I just
started gradually getting more

and more interested
in literature

that's more concerned with this.

- Concerned with what?

- It's like solving a--

- Human horror?

- I just think--

- Basically how would you,
'cause that's the history

of the world is human horror.

- It's just so obvious
that we would all like

to, you know, make
love to each other

and just sit there and dance

around a campfire or whatever.

- It is?

- And we don't want
to become terrorists.

- We don't?

- And have designs
in killing people,

but it seems like people do.

And so I think about these
questions when I write.

- I mean, you've got to hear
how problematic that sounds.

I mean, that we're gonna
solve human horror?

- It is problematic.

This moral righteousness,
you know, I'm paraphrasing,

but that's kind of
what you're trying to

accuse me of being.
- Well, obviously,

you punch a million
buttons of mine.

I punch a million
buttons of yours.

And as I've told you,

I grew up in the PC
family of all PC families,

and I've been hearing
this rhetoric basically

And I guess I'm very invested
in pushing back against it

in my own little, I guess,

apparently somewhat
self-reflexive way,

which is I do believe
what I say, which is that,

you know, I love
great books, you know,

and I love trying to
understand the human soul.

And there's a lot
of ways of doing it.

But the idea that we're,
through a work of literature,

we're gonna somehow solve
the human condition,

I mean, you've got to hear
how hopelessly idealistic

and naive that sounds.
- We're not gonna solve it.

We're just gonna move the
needle a little closer

to one end than the other.

- It's almost like we
might have different MOs.

I could see widening my canvas,
as again I'm trying to do.

But I think you,
in a strange way,

the thing I'm trying to
urge you to do is, weirdly,

narrow your canvas
to make it bigger.

That is to say that you
are working on this book,

which again, admittedly,
I've just glanced at,

but I've definitely talked
with you about it both--

- I think if I incorporated
some of your elements into it,

and it was very
exquisitely done,

it would probably
strengthen the book.

- Right.

- But if I made it a book
like you would write it,

I think it would
perhaps weaken it.

I'm trying to learn.

I'm trying to get
something from you.

- Thanks.

- Don't get me wrong.

- I'm trying to get something
from you, obviously.

(phone rings)

- [Caleb] Hey, hey,
so no way, no how?

- [Gia] I'm sorry.

- Hey, I'm so, uh,
so, uh, you know,

it'd be cool to see
you and all that.

- [Gia] Yeah,
yeah, yeah, I know.

It's just, yeah,
I have to be back.

- Gia, it sounds
like you voted no.

This is David,
Caleb's combatant.

Basically, the whole
movie is us arguing

between life and art,
and you represent life.

(Gia laughs)

You can be a Madonna
in a Rembrandt painting

that will be viewed
200 years from now.

Do you not want to
be that Madonna?

(Gia laughs)

- [Gia] Yeah, that's a really
cool way to put it, but, um--

- No, anyway, Gia, thanks
for even considering it.

- [Gia] All right,
well, have fun shooting.

- Thanks a lot.
- Okay.


- [Gia] All right, bye.

- You know, I feel
like I criticized

some of your stances.

You pointed out the
deficiencies of my life.

It really hit

ground zero, sort of,
when the whole question

of Gia came up.

Then we sort of worked
out a little bit

of a rapprochement when
I sort of said, you know,

honestly, I felt bad
about pushing you

as hard as I possibly
could and bringing up names

that I had said I wouldn't,

feeling that if we had to, we
could always edit them out,

and I feel like that
we are, frankly,

waiting for the endgame.

- [Caleb] Man, yeah, I'm
getting an appetite here, man.

- [David] You can
direct me, okay.

I've got to drive.

This will be the comic
part of our evening.

I just wanna make sure I don't
go over the side on that.

- [Caleb] All right.

Keep going.

Just go straight.

Slow, angle it back.

- [David] Just be aware

of that left side.
- Angle it out.

You've got it.

Can you see through
your side view--

- [David] I'm just
aware of my left side.

Let me just check my left side.

- [Caleb] All right, yeah, okay.

- [David] I think we're good.

Thanks, Caleb.

- Can you go forward?

- [David] You're
a friend in need.

- [Caleb] The roads
are pretty good, too.

It didn't snow.

- [David] Yeah, we
should be solid.

- So even though
it might be chilly.

Do you remember the
last line in The Fall?

- [David] I don't.

I should, but I don't.

- He, you know, his
big crisis is the fact

that he saw a drowning
woman, and he did nothing.

And his last line, and I
didn't read it in English.

- [David] What did you
read it in, Portuguese?

- Spanish.

- [David] I love
how you do that,

your constantly reading
in other languages.

- And his last line is,

to the effect of,

"I really wish I could
be there that night

"and have a second chance
to jump in the water

"and save that girl.

"Luckily, I never will."

- [David] Right, 'cause
it's total delusion,

and he knows it.

- So he's able to
feel the empathy,

but he doubts whether
he'd actually act.

- That's nice.

That's Camus at his best.

And I like that
you like that line,

'cause what I was
trying to say is that

I do think sometimes you
are very good empathizing

with the girl in
Waltz with Bashir,

but when you are confronted

with someone who has
real pain, and again,

I'm not gonna compare stuttering

to some catastrophic genocide,

but I do feel like when
you are asked to empathize

with some other
individual, ordinary life,

I think you're sometimes
bafflingly unwilling or unable

to empathize with it,
but you're very good

in the abstract realm.

- Perhaps.

- [David] And I think
sometimes I'm really bad

at empathizing in the abstract.

It's all just sort
of statistics to me,

but I feel like I'm
relatively decent.

♪ I wish I was a fightin' man

♪ Put up your dukes

♪ What's the matter, man

- [David] So maybe I'll
park a little farther--

- You've got a spot right there.

- [David] Yeah.

- [Caleb] You can park
right next to him.

- [David] And we
can eat a dinner

to celebrate something or other.

It's been a crucible.

These two days have felt
like two months to me.

I mean, it's been a crucible
in a really interesting way.

- [Caleb] Time flies,
I mean, then it's over.

- But I think, Caleb,
one of the ironies

of the thing for me is that
we did this art project,

and I've never felt
closer to you in my life.

I mean, I feel like you are--

- We've definitely got
a genuine friendship.

- Definitely a friend,
whereas before,

I think we were sort of
collaborators and because of--

- We were friendly

- Yeah, before this crucible

that we went through,
we went through,

I thought, a really
nervous moment this morning

and all today, and who
knows how it will work out,

if we'll be pleased with the
final film or the final book.

People will like the book
or the movie, who knows?

But to me, one of the
big revelations is

this tremendous
affection I feel for you.

It's mixed with other
feelings, too, I must admit,

but I feel real feelings
of affection for you

and brotherly love
that you're a good guy.

You're such a bleeding heart.

You're just such
a big, you know,

kind of tear-stained bear.

- All your comments
about how an artist,

the most courageous
artist seeks his own abyss

was coming more real to
me, because I was saying

that if I want to
create better art,

I'm gonna have to,

even though for whatever reason,

I'm gonna have to go
somewhere I didn't want to go,

and I realize that maybe
I don't want to go there.

Maybe it is a question
of fear, courage,

you know, the ability to
control this fear and master it.

- So, let me, so you
told Gia not to come.

- No.

(James laughs)

- That was my suspicion, too.

I mean, would you cop
to it if you did it?

I mean, your eyes
are definitely--

(James laughs)

Your eyes are
definitely dancing.

- I didn't.

I'm saying this is a
very intriguing idea

that I could have.

I'm still conflicted
about, you know--

- Oh, now you want her to come?

- Well, no, but I'm
also conceding things

that I've argued against.

The artist expands outward,

and you're saying the
artist expands inward.

- Both.

- This time, this was a
very psychic dissonance.

- You were working it out.

- I will be
complicit, definitely.

I mean, of all the villains,
I would have to blame myself.

- On the plane home, we'll
still be working it out.

- By being in this
film, I feel like it is,

at least right now,
both have chosen art,

just by being in the film.

- What I'm saying is that, to
me, you seem slightly appalled

or like just mystified
that Caleb would choose not

to reveal untoward
things about a friend,

whereas I would just
say, let's be honest,

in your own work, in
a variety of ways,

you have chosen to make
similar decisions at times, no?

(Caleb chuckles)

- Is that true?

- I mean, of course!

- No, I mean, if we're
talking about just revealing

somebody's a stripper, I've
talked about way worse stuff.

- But have you named names
in a very direct way?

That's the thing.

It often has the
veil of fiction.

And I think that is a big thing.

- Okay, I guess what I, okay,

I guess so where
I'm coming from--

- If you had a friend
who was a stripper,

and her name was Karen, you
would call her Samantha.

- Okay, I guess what
I'm saying is if I--

- That's a huge difference.

- If I was in Caleb's position,

and I was calling somebody,
without telling the director,

to come be in the thing--

- I know what you mean.

- I would assume that that
person is down to be on camera,

just like you two.

So when I hear that, I say,
"Okay, you want her in?

"Then she's gonna
have to open up."

We didn't know, like,
are we just recreating

what's in the book?

Are we having real discussions?

Are these real interactions?

What are we doing?

So I think part of that
maybe was the confusion there

and also just what
is this thing?

We don't know.

Who comes in, who doesn't?

What comes in, what doesn't?

- It is a good thing.

I mean, if you ask,
"Why do you care

"so much about non-fiction?"

Here's why.

Because the moment it
was fiction, it was dead.

The moment it was non-fiction,
our nerves jangled.

(gentle guitar music)

- [Caleb] You got
your computer bag?

- [David] All set.

- [Caleb] What, do you
have two computers?

- No, this is my so-called
C-PAP, it's for--

- [Caleb] C-Pack?

- C, hyphen, P-A-P,
it's for my sleep apnea.

- [Caleb] C-PAP?

- [David] Yeah, I forget
exactly what it stands for,

but it's--

- [Caleb] Does it have
anything to do with

that scuba diving gear
you have at night?

- Yeah, exactly,

I stop breathing in the middle
of the night without it.

- You're like a Darth Vader.

I probably shouldn't
tell you this,

but last night, I
snuck into your room

and took some pictures
of you with it on.

And I kind of posted
it on Facebook.

- [David] You posted
pictures of me

with my sleep apnea on Facebook?

- [Caleb] It's funny.

- [David] Of me with my mask on?

- [Caleb] It was
like at the end.

I kind of, what the fuck?

And it was funny.

- [David] Was that like you
acting like a total newbie

and taking a picture of
Franco when he was sleeping?

- [Caleb] I'll
bring that up later.

(Caleb laughs)

- [David] What was the
value of taking a picture

of me sleeping with
my sleep apnea?

Just to make me look ridiculous?

- [Caleb] I don't know,
just my sense of humor.

- Right, I mean,
it's interesting.

I mean, the Oedipal
rage of it is beautiful.

(gentle guitar music)

We came here to do our script.

We got totally off-script.

And we got into some
moments where, you know,

I was yelling at you.

You were yelling at me.

That we were having
actual conversations,

which was pretty bizarre.

I mean, I thought it best
we'd hit our plot points,

but we actually got in,
I would say, in trouble.

We got in emotional trouble.

Forget the fourth wall.

I felt like we broke
through the ninth wall.

I mean, it was like things
got legitimately interesting.

- [Caleb] I'm kind of
concentrating on the curves

and all that.

- Oh, I'm sorry, yeah.

- [Caleb] No, go
ahead, go ahead.

I'm listening, I'm listening.

- [David] But anyway, I'm
just babbling on, but, um--

- [Caleb] Whoa!

- [David] Whoa,
pretty but deadly.

- [David] Yeah, wow, boy.

- [David] We hit a little, yeah.

- [Caleb] That's a sun.

- [David] That is a sunset.

- [Caleb] Maybe I should
put on my sunglasses here.

- [David] Yes, we're
movie stars now.

You okay on that sun, Caleb?

- [Caleb] Oh yeah, I
got to do it again.

Jeez, I take my glasses off.

- [David] I mean,
there's Franco.

He pretends it's all about
art, but he says safety first.

- [Caleb] Yeah, even with the
glasses on, I got to like--

- [David] He's not
willing to die for art.

That's pathetic.

- [Caleb] I got no visible.

- You were genuinely hurt.

There was just a
pallor over your face,

where you felt
genuinely betrayed.

You were in a genuine panic.

I thought, quite possibly,

you'd take off the
recording device and leave.

And part of me was
quite frankly trying

to save the artistic project.

Part of me was hurt, was
feeling like I had betrayed you

in a very specific sense

of mentioning a
particular person's name,

which I thought was
relatively harmless,

'cause I thought you
could always take it out,

as you can take it out
of a draft of a book.

But anyway, I was genuinely
moved by how hurt you were.

And you seemed like, to me,
this sort of wounded bear,

and I wanted to take the
thorn out of your paw.

And I was ready to,
in a sense, I thought,

somewhat stand up to
Franco and say, "James,

"I hugely respect
your allegiance to

"I really admire, James,
how you have pushed us,

"but I'm not gonna get 100%
in support of you, James.

"I'm heavily in support of you,

"but I'm finally
gonna draw a line

"and say finally if Caleb needs

"X out and Y out,

"I feel enough of a
commitment to our friendship

"and the responsibilities
I've made to him

"that I would somewhat
regretfully back Caleb.

"I just don't want to
betray a former student."

- [Caleb] Now you're circling.

You're busking.

- I'm busking?

I felt like I actually
moved off of my spot.

I came in as Joe Artist.

I'm a very strict artist.

I embrace life.

I don't see how you
have moved at all.

- [Caleb] Why do we
need to have this flip?

Why do I need to move?

- Because it's called a movie.

- Why can't, like,
end this and think

that I'm even more
right than I was before

and that my aesthetic--

- Oh that's perfect!

I move and you don't, game over.

I'll take it.

- If that's what you consider
victory, but I think--

- I'm a flexible being, and
you are lashed in concrete.

I'll take it.

- If that's how you want
to interpret it, fine.

- Interesting.

- I'm just saying

that you want me to
fit into this role

of this artistic device,

and you sort of want
to see this flip,

but the idea that you flipped,

and I haven't means that I win.

How do you think that you win?
- That's beautiful.

I swear to God, that's perfect.

It makes the perfect movie.
- Are you serious?

- That's perfect for the movie,

because I moved, and you didn't.

I'm not sure how that, I'm
trying to figure out how

that's perfect, but it is.

- You're saying, "I'm
gonna make you flip."

And I'm gonna say "I'm gonna
make you flip, but I'm not."

And at the end of the
movie, I don't flip.

- No, but that's the flip.

(Caleb laughs)

It's hard to explain,
but basically, it's this.

I thought I was made 100%
art and did not have a heart,

but I find I have a heart,
and I actually moved.

In my loyalty to art, I
actually deliver humanity.

Whereas you, in your
allegiance to life

and refusing to move, you
actually deliver a good movie,

if you see what I mean.

- Right.

- That's a beautiful move.

I don't know how
conscious you are of it,

but in your weird,

- I'm a lot more conscious

of things than you think.

- Yes, in your Caleb-esque
allegiance to life,

and your refusal to deliver
art, you actually delivered art.

That's perfect.

(Caleb laughs)

Cut, cue the fuckin' piano.

("Band of the Mojave"
by Mark Matos)

♪ They televise the sunrise

♪ On big screen TV sets

♪ A red square to remember

♪ But who's there to remind

♪ Paralyzed by the fast dream

♪ Lose your feet
in the slipstream ♪

♪ It's hard to
know if we're there ♪

♪ In a space we've never seen

♪ In the land of
the soft machine ♪

♪ On the sand of the Mojave

♪ The sand of the Mojave

♪ The sand of the Mojave