I was listening to a podcast discussing Harold Pinter’s plays (none of which I’ve never seen) and the author of an article on Pinter noted that, when Pinter was an actor, he got tired of all the stories where everything “factored out” at the end. The author used this term twice, and the second time he used it, I started thinking about what that meant.
In context, it seemed to be a mathematical statement. For instance, let’s take the algebraic equation 2x + 4=6x. We can solve for x. X equals 1. We have taken a somewhat complex equation and made it simple. No loose ends. No complexity. Simplicity. An answer. I think the author is referring to this type of process when he refers to a story being factored out at the end.
What has occurred in these processes, both dramatical and mathematical, is taking complexity and reducing it to simplicity. This is an apt metaphor for the type of “drama” I am accused of being snobbish about. When people accuse me of being a movie snob, it is because I am not entertained by or interested in films that factor out the complexity of life. Can we truly resolve every dramatic situation with an answer and a lesson?
I love art that highlights complexities. A favorite example is the film “In the Bedroom.” In this movie, in sum, a young man is killed by his girlfriend’s ex-husband, and the parents of the slain man attempt to live with the sorrow, even while the murderer roams free in the town after being released from jail. As the parents’ marriage unravels, the wife convinces the husband to kill the murderer. He does so. In the final scene, as he comes home after the murder in the blue light of dawn, he lays down in bed. His wife, showing a peace she hasn’t shown since before the murder, offers to get him a cup of coffee and gets up to make it. As she leaves, he lays in bed, staring at the ceiling, his life changed forever.
This is complex. The final murder has given the wife peace that it has not given the husband. The story is not over. All we have done is closed one chapter, and we can assume that more problems come in the future. We do not have a happily ever after. We do not have a full resolution. We only have a partial resolution that may lead to greater understanding of real complexities. That is life. And that is what drama should illuminate. All the rest, all that can be factored out to x=1, is fairy tale.