Jun 2, 2011

The Guilt Factor

It's a bit belated, but I hope everyone enjoyed their Memorial Day weekend.  For me the main highlight consisted of my wife and I going with a close friend to a nice buffet and that was about it.  The restaurant's name was Salty's, located in West Seattle on the waterfront with a postcard-perfect view of downtown Seattle from across Elliot Bay.  We sat one row up from the huge glass windows and enjoyed our brunch and before I go on, my personal favorite was the bacon.  Yes, it's simple, but they make it so tender the stuff practically melts in your mouth.  Yummy!

Okay, okay, now that I've rambled about eating at a buffet we can go on to the next part that usually goes with it, namely the feeling of guilt that can accompany a delicious meal.  Like characters in a story, we in real life are very rarely exempt from this emotion as well, particularly when it comes to high-fat food, but the real trick is in knowing how to manage it.  Pacing is important and I made sure I didn't feel like I was going to explode at any given point and perhaps most beneficial, we went for a three hour walk up and down nearby Alki Beach.  I'm not convinced all the fat was burned off, but at least I didn't feel nearly as guilty as I would have otherwise.

Guilt is a powerful force in our lives and equally so in the realm of fiction.  Plunge into your memory and I'm sure you'll come up with a handful of examples from your favorite stories where characters are tormented by feelings of guilt over bad habits or bad deeds like betrayal, lying, stealing, cheating and more.  Guilt and its associated shame are an integral part of the human condition and it's because each one of us understands it so well that writers can use it so effectively, creating fantastic moments of tension that can add psychological depth to a character's persona or help to drive a plotline forward. 

Straying into the world of cinema, one my favorite moments is Robert the Bruce from Braveheart.  His betrayal of William Wallace is so sudden and so complete and you can't help thinking, along with Mel Gibson, "what the hell have you done?" and later on you can see from the Bruce's expressions alone that it's "tearing him apart."

What are some examples where you felt a writer or filmmaker used guilt in an effective way?