Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Redemptive Crazy Heart

Moral Premise Analysis

Written & Directed by Scott Cooper
based on novel by Thomas Cobb

Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) (AA: BEST ACTOR)
Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal)
Wayne (Robert Duval)
Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell)

Music by
Stephen Bruton, T-Bone Burnett, & Ryan Bingham

Length: 106 min (1:46)
Domestic Gross 35MM

Act 1-2 Break
(Theoretically: 25% = 26.5 min.)
Actual: After Jean's first interview with Blake, he asks her:
"Did you get what you need?
and she responds: "I could always use more." (28:42)
Moment of Grace
Theoretically: 50% = 53 min.)
Actual: After Blake rolls his truck and
the doctor tells Blake to start taking care of himself. (55:30)
Act 2-3 Break
Theoretically: 75% = 79.5 min.)
Actual: After Blake loses Buddy in the mall and Jean leaves him.
Next morning Blake calls Wayne: "I want to get sober." (90 min.)

Self-hated leads to a destructive and empty life; but
Self-love leads to a constructive and fulfilled life.

One night a few months ago, while in L.A. on a consulting job, I saw CRAZY HEART  at the instigation of writer-director Mike Soccio. Mike was lamenting the ending of Crazy Heart because Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), does not end up with his love interest Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal). The next day Mike and I tossed around the idea that the movie didn't do that great at the B.O. principally because it didn't have that expected "Hollywood Ending."  It was a let down for the audience that after all the trials and tribulations that Bad Blake goes through, especially after his successful effort to get his life straightened out, the girl goes to another man -- and a man we never meet, nor do we know anything about. Mike was nearly pounding the table in expressing the audience's disappointment. 

I agreed with Mike then, and I do now, even after studying the story and coming to appreciate the "rewarding" genre-bending structure that Crazy Heart employs. It's a structure that  stretches the genre of a "romance" in an appropriate and truthful way, leaving us with a slightly independent feel and a terrific story.  I think the fact that Blake does not end up with the girl actually opened the door for Jeff Bridge's Academy BEST ACTOR win -- something I had hoped for.  And, I will attempt to describe why the movie would have been a disaster, in a narrative sense, if Blake had ended up with Jean.


In CRAZY HEART, Bad Blake's physical goal is to write new songs for his successful prodigy, Tommy Sweet.  But the psychological problem that prevents this is Blake's own self-hatred and the physical manifestation of that hatred — alcoholism. One of the wounds from Blake's past is that during the days when he was making a name for himself and touring, he became an absentee father. In our story Blake has not seen his son, Stephen, since his boy was four. That is the age of Jean's boy (Buddy), and it explains why Blake takes to Buddy-- it's an effort to redeem his past.

Thus, Blake's psychological goal is to love himself. Once he learns to love himself, he can stop drinking, and with the absence of alcohol he can, once again, become a songwriting powerhouse.

To tell this story our protagonist, Blake, needs help to see his problem and to learn to love again. He can't possibly love others until he learns to love himself.

The agents, or mentors, that lead Blake on that journey include a variety of characters, from his manager, to Tommy, and to his friend Wayne. But the most important guide on his journey is the aspiring journalist Jean Craddock.  

Jean, therefore, is not the goal, but the muse. The story is about Blake learning to love himself, not Blake learning to love Jean. Oh, it could have been about learning to love Jean, but that story, if it's to happen, is after the fade to black. (She's not married yet.)

Further, Jean's goals as muse, is not simply to stimulate Blake's songwriting that seems to come naturally to Blake, but to be his muse toward health and love—two criteria for being able to write songs. The narrative structure allows Jean to give herself to Blake in love, to remind Blake of the hope and inspiration that love can bring. So, that is what she does. Similarly, Blake's manager,  Wayne and the doctor do what they can to guide Blake toward self-respect and health. Indeed the manager starts and finishes the journey, and the doctor partners with Jean in the Moment of Grace to turn Blake in the opposite direction.

Buddy's role is also designed to inspire Blake to see the redemption of love, for Buddy is a metaphor for Blake. Not only does Buddy represent the flesh and blood son Blake lost, but when Blake drinks in the mall bar, Buddy leaves. That's a metaphor for when Blake drinks, Blake's essence leaves. And when Jean tells Blake that he'll hurt Buddy with his drinking, the meaning is that Blake will hurt Blake with his drinking.

By the end of the story Jean and the others have succeeded—Blake returns to self-respect and self-love and is productive and fulfilled. In this light, for Jean to become the object of his journey, for her to become his goal, would discredit the story being about Blake and the fundamental journey he's on.


Music plays an important role in communicating to an audience what a movie is really about at a psychological or spiritual level. And the music in CRAZY HEART is central. An examination of the songs reinforce the above analysis. The songs are not so much about a man loving a woman, but simply about a man loving and respecting himself.

The movie's theme song is Ryan Bingham's THE WEARY KIND. It's not a song about love between a man and a woman, but about a man learning to give his life one more chance.

And this ain’t no place for the weary kind

And this ain’t no place to lose your mind
And this ain’t no place to fall behind

Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try

In the song SEARCHING, it does look as if this could be about a man and a woman, but as we see Jean being the muse, we realize that Jean's love is a metaphor for the real object of Blake's love, himself -- not in narcissism, but in self-respect.  Read these lyrics with "self" standing in for "you" -- or Jean standing in for loving self.

I've spent a lifetime darling

Searching looking for someone like you

Dreaming in all my dreams
I dream that someday
I'd find someone like you
Other loves have come my way
but they were not for me

Tell me that you're here to stay don't ever set me free

Then there is the song Wayne sings (off camera), LIVE FOREVER. This is not just a song for Blake about his son, or for Jean about Buddy, but principally about all fathers and mothers (especially Blake's father and mother). For whatever happened in Blake's past, and we don't know everything, it's evident that the "darkness" had taken Blake. Wayne's song is to all of us, a plea for all of us to do what we can as parents to raise up our children with self-respect so they do not become like "bad" Blake:

You fathers and you mothers

Be good to one another

Please try to raise your children right
Don't let the darkness take 'em

Don't make 'em feel forsaken

Just lead them safely to the light

When this old world is blown us under

And all the stars fall from the sky

Remember someone really loves you

We'll live forever you and I
I'm gonna live forever

I'm gonna cross that river

I'm gonna catch tomorrow now.


Open the gates
Welcome him in. 

There's a brand new angel,

a brand new angel

with an old idea.

The "old idea" here is not the "old, bad Blake" but the old idea of a noble, constructive, tradition and not the modern tendency toward cynicism, anarchistic indulgence, and moral deconstruction. Blake is the brand new angel. Welcome him in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think this is a perceptve reading of what is a singularly profound story about human sadness, pain and redemption, which no concrete explanations as to why this sadness is edemic to so may of us. I like the film's ambiguity, the way it's possible for the story have to two readings at least, one down, the other up. The film's ending is in the middle, on the way up. And this is explained and captured very well I think the article I have just read.