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FILM Compassion in film in a time of Trump

Nicola Hilliard-Forde

Nicola Hilliard-Forde

Canadian casting director, producer Nicola Hilliard-Forde writes on compassion in film

Hooray, a film and Trump. Well, she says she’s motivated to write because of evenements. Don’t think I’ll be able to slip a Godard in here, but who knows. See what transpires. Oh, I just did.

Her current film, directed by Joey Klein, “a dark romantic drama about a young woman with bipolar disorder and a young man with PTSD who fall in love and struggle to forge a simple life together, is The Other Half, due for release 2 Dec 2016.

In these piece she reviews filmic narrative of compassion, chats to three film chums, Mark Rendell, actor, Mayuran Tiruchelvam, writer/producer, and Natasha Lyonne, actor and filmmaker, about films, suffering, and empathetic storytelling.

At this point, I feel obliged to say as people sit back [or lean forward, suddenly stand up, enraged..] to consider who their next president really is and what he actually might do, is someone somewhere is going to make that movie, In A Time Of Trump. In social media and MSM, the satire, plain old-fashioned mockery and distain being in full swing, where is there else to put one’s creative energy, positive or negative, but film or music….why yes, who is up for the Trumpet Concerto?

One bright spark pointed out Trump – or Fingers von Trumpf [strictly it should be Drumpf..] as I am prone to call him – Finger’s for short – is a man blessed with empathy, but he carefully adds it has little or no emotion attached to it, except where it might impinge on his own hurt about what other people say about him. He susses you but does not feel your hurt. But gets hurt himself very easily. And responds to all slights with full force to defend his fragile ego [presumably]. All complicated by also being in possession of many other features of those who we can terms as living in The Borderlands of Personality. The major current opinion is he’s a narcissist of high order, with possible NPD. I think it’s worse than that. He seems very much a sociopath as well. Though as far as we know not a psychopath. A careful study of DS-5 will help if you can be bothered.

Here, for those who feel at this point that this doesn’t seem like the correct description of what empathy means, some more. First, empathy is too often taken for or thought of, or used as the same as sympathy, which it isn’t. Though the two come together under normal circumstances. One can cause the other? Contingent? It’s a debate.

A recent very interesting medium-form by Ed Young in The Atlantic, 6 Dec 2016, Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self, is a quite a good primer for looking back at empathy, or even considering it seriously for the first time. Though he does lead you beyond this basic idea into further fascinating realms.

Empathy is where we get to say TOM. Theory of Mind. Human minds evolved to be able to work out what other minds are think even or might be about to think. Feelings and so forth on the are as well, but you know. That is we pick up on other’s feelings and use these and what we think guess they might be thinking and how it’s all connected as a view of that particular person. Say your life partner for simplicity. You get to know the language of this person’s mind, the emotional machinery, through long years of experience. Some can finish the others sentences. That must be infuriating. How far can you push this before tears or rage appear? Etc., et al.

Anyway, it’s not as easy as big on empathy successful, or massively empathetic, really nice to know. You might have 4/10 empathy which would carry you though life, while you might be 9/10 and be a complete failure though you could clock very easily what they were thinking and feeling. or thinking through what they seemed to be feeling. Etc. Et al. It’s not the only mental equipment you possess. The man with high empathy might essentially be a sociopath. And that is bad news for empathy which so many write about as a positive feature of life which ought to be encouraged. It can be taught, in one sense, just like a sense of fairness or what society regards right or wrong, or the oughts and should. It can be pointed out to anyone, empathetic or not, what being empathetic means. But you’re pretty much born with high or low empathy. The rest are adds ons. That’s called parenting and education.

Thomas Markham in, Why Empathy Hold the Key to Transforming 21st Century Learning, at Mindshift, 16 Nov 2016, gives his take on what empathy is. He says,

‘the feeling of being able to understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.’

But take his piece right through to the end. It’s a very good way to get up to speed on the wider aspects of empathy.

Add in there the autistic spectrum with, say, your Rain Man type totally unable to think about anything but his own thoughts, let alone figure out what might be in the minds of others. In Justin Hoffman’s case he’s an idiot savant. Well, not Justin….That doesn’t mean unable to work out to some degree some things people might be up to, but largely it’s a self-contained world, where things come into the brain, things go out, but they’re not seen in terms of other people. Your upset at a severely autistic person’s behaviour does not register as, I have hurt you, but more this person is annoying me. The severely autistic person is at the end of the spectrum of brain difference, with we might suggested things like dyslexia on the left end and autism on the right. I have no idea id there have been scan studies of autistic people, but I don’t think it is hard even without a detailed understanding of the brain, to see that whatever inputs simply doesn’t get finally channelled to those centres which allow for the ability to read other’s minds [which means form guesses about essentially…]. Certainly not to the frontal lobes where the cognition and the control of impulses lie [epileptics with frontal lobe foci are known to be impulsive, though this does not impair things like creativity. it may enhance it. Then there’s all the writers who were epileptic the famous e.g. being Dostoevsky.

With bipolar we’re in a similar territory, but its a lot more complicated and not understood that well at the brain module interaction level .

So strangely, but understandably, severe autists can get upset when the world impinges on them in a way they can’t cope with. They can get up set but it’s like there is a nasty echo which they can’t get rid of. It’s just they don’t notice when someone else is upset, apart from when it has the effect of making them upset.

And so. So it must go. Ought. Must. Segue to Trump. No one’s saying so far he’s autistic, just lacking in empathy and narcissistic and some other stuff. They’re all working feverishly on what it all amounts to I’m sure. A man who can suss and order and organise his world, manipulate it, but who doesn’t especially feel for the world he so manipulates. A man who has been ruthless, for example in imposing stingy pre-nuptial agreements on all his wives. Treating workers badly. Slinging out tenants from buildings he wishes to re-develop. But just this single thing, empathy, should go a long way tell you what sort of a man he is, before getting on to the rest.


Manic-depression. Bipolar doesn’t really express what it is in the same way. There are not enough films about not famous people bipolar sufferers, I the sense of making it clear that is what this character has. The characteristics of behaviour might be shown, but rarely does anyone inside a movie declare what it is.

Plenty of films about mad composers or artists, though mostly they did not say Van Gogh or Mahler or Munch or Schumann were bipolar. [Amadeus strikes me as showing a bipolar Mozart]. Reckless, self-destructive behaviour, suicidal depression, yes. Though bipolar is a spectrum with many who cycle rapidly or slowly between elation and blackdog, but who are never in need or feel they need medication. Or, from a dramatic way of looking at it, they don’t get into deep enough trouble to merit books or films being written about them. There are quite a few books by bipolars who got into deep trouble but were lucky to escape total disaster and lived to tell the tale. One, I recall a successful British accountant, who suddenly started buying expensive cars which even he couldn’t afford.

Interestingly, there is a wiki listing bipolar suffers, historical and alive, from which one could conclude, knowing little about what bipolar consists of, that there is a strong correlation with creativity. Susan Redfield Jamison herself bipolar, wrote the classic book on bipolar and creativity. There is also: The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.

That rough territory of human life between mental illness and those borderline personality disorders, seems has always been, a fertile one for the writer. This film, The Other Half, out now [this post was started weeks ago..], is mental illness meets chronic stress.

I’ve a great affinity for the manic-depressive. So many of us could be mildly bipolar and not realise it. No one would question too deeply someone who was intelligent, funny, imaginative, whose behaviour is, unknown to them or even the person himself, rooted in an inherited condition such as manic-depression.

The strangeness is that so many inherited problems like dyslexia, seem to persist in populations when a modest understanding of evolution would suggest they would be selected against. Why would manic-depression come through so many generations – who knows when it first appeared in populations. The advantages that the manic phase gave to groups as a whole rather than the individual may explain why it has persisted. Homosexuality according to some evolutionary psychologists – they of the theories without any real dat to back up their ideas folk – suggest a gay man or women might have been of benefit to the sort of small social group way back in the mists of time, because of their role as additional cares who didn’t have their own to worry about. This is commonly observed in the animal kingdom, where a dog might tend a kitten, say.


I think this essay was wandering towards conservatism low empathy – leftism high empathy, but it didn’t quite get there. Never mind. That’s the beauty of the blog post: it’s not being published and hasn’t got to pass through editorial filters. All there is the blogger’s sense of proprietary, morals and ethics and that dastardly self-censorship. Though we know full well, as is exhibited by all the nasty things that have crept out of the woodwork since Fingers was elected, the last can often be in short supply once the cork pops, the genie’s out of the bottle. Etc. Et al.

December 8, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment