I recently watched Another Earth (winner of the Sundance 2011).  The main character, Rhoda takes us on her journey to redemption for having killed a man’s family in a car accident resulting in a four year prison term.  One of many aspects of this film that was masterful was its dialogue and lack of it – no one spoke for half of the film (Rhoda’s alienation from her family and friends).  As she sets herself on a path to meet the man whose family died because of her criminal negligence and does meet him, befriends him and turns his life around, dialogue gains substance and meaning.  Dialogue is withheld and introduced to correspond with the characters’ social disengagement and engagement.

Characters need to be silent and conversant.  Know when each is appropriate to build both your characters’ interior and exterior worlds.

Here is dialogue that allows silence among its syllables from The Art of Falling.

Rushing to him, she tapped on the window.  The boy jumped, focused on her, then rolled it down. “Are you all right?”  She was steady and calm.  She looked at the space between his bumper and the tree.  “Can you talk?”

He sat in silence.  Angry he wasn’t alone.   Angry that he was.   His face felt swollen with it.   Then, “Yeah…yeah…I’m sorry.”

She gave him space, time.  “You’re sorry!  For what?”
For what…for what…he thought.  For what… He lowered his head.   Why is she here?  Leave me the hell alone.  “…for doing this.  For falling asleep at the wheel.”

She thought he struggled to breathe and gave him more time. “Look, you seem a little shaken.  Breathe deeply, slowly.  Can you?”  He tried.  “Any pain?”  He didn’t answer.  “Keep breathing, then we’ll get your car turned around.”

“No!” as he forced air into his shallow lungs.

“What?”

“Car’s outta gas!  Won’t turn around.”

Nan was speechless, thought about the complexity of his simple sentence, Car’s outta gas!  “You’re out of gas?  Then looked at the tree, an inch from his bumper.  “You said you fell asleep.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry you had to stop and get out of your car.”

“You don’t have to be sorry for anything,” She looked at the highway beyond and a field of cows ahead.  He fell asleep and is out of gas.  She looked again at the tree.  “Where are you going?”

“Camping.  I have all my gear.  I’m going west – all the way to B.C. to hook up with friends.  I bought this car last week.”

She looked inside the empty car.  “You’re going west?  Well, I hate to rain on your parade, but you’re heading northeast.”

“Northeast?”  And he looked at her face and the two brown moons that sat like dusk setting over his own eyes.  He stared trying to recall similar discs he had seen once, then looked away.  “Northeast!”  He was amazed.

Nan reached in and patted the boy’s forearm still wrapped around the wheel.  “You should try to relax.”  Quickly he dropped his arm to his side, and as quickly Nan withdrew hers.  “I’ll call a service centre.”

“No!”

“Why not?”
“No money.”

“You’re going to B.C. without money?”

“I’ve got everything else.  In the trunk.  Tent.  Guitar.  Books. Food.”

“What kind of books?”

“The usual.  Nietzsche, Watts, Huxley, Kerouac.”

“Not so usual,” she commented and smiled.

He bent forward and panned the field through the windshield.  “I think I’m going pitch my tent right here, spend the night, then go home tomorrow.”

“Here?”
“Sure.”

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.  I’m awake.  I’m sorry you had to stop.”

“At least let me call your mom and dad.”

“No.  They had a going away party for me.  I’d feel like a total fuck up if I went home now.”

“Okay.  Do you want me to stay a while?  You seem disoriented.  If you hadn’t run out of gas, you….”

He looked at the wall of bark ahead of him and suddenly felt sorry for it.  For what would have happened to it.  “Yeah, I see it.  My guardian angel must have seen it too.”

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