Thursday, June 21, 2012

Intention and Interpretation

I've been watching Girls on HBO of late*, and it's a solid, interesting show.  It's had a lot of firestorm surrounding it, but that's not what I'm going to talk about.  Mostly because the firestorm has mostly devolved into talking about the firestorm itself, and I don't really care to shove myself into that self-swallowing snake.

What is interesting to me is each episode is followed up by a brief commentary on the episode by writer/creator/often-director/lead actress Lena Dunham.  In terms of auteur, this show is all Ms. Dunham.  She touches every aspect of the show, on both sides of the camera, and what she has to say about it is essentially word-of-God, in terms of authorial intent. 

This is interesting to me because very often, when she's talking about the characters on the show, what they feel and why they do the things they do, it's clear that her intentions behind the characters bear almost no connection to my interpretation of them as a viewer.

Now, I am not saying that I am "right" and she's "wrong".  She is completely correct in stating her intentions.  And my interpretation is correct in terms of my subjective impressions.  But the vast difference between the two is kind of a new experience for me.  Ms. Dunham will say something like, "Jessa sees a lot of wisdom in what Kathryn is saying" but what I saw was, "Jessa really wants Kathryn to shut up."

If I were feeling uncharitable, I would say that part of this is because Ms. Dunham's character (Hannah) of a 24-year-old navel-gazer with her head up her ass isn't actually too far from the truth.  Especially since the text of the show seems to support the idea that Hannah has her head up her ass.  Despite the show's sympathies for the character, she's regularly shown other people yelling at her for being inconsiderate and obtuse.**  But, frankly, Ms. Dunham herself seems far too intelligent and aware for this to be the case.  Perhaps it's simply a case of her intentions not being clear in the text, which is a problem a lot of writers face, including myself.

Take, for example, my second-least-favorite*** of the Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian.  Suffice it to say, I'm pretty impervious to all the religious parable stuff in Narnia.  I'm just not going to be the target audience here.  But the one in Caspian kind of drives me nutty, even though I think I understand the author's intent.  In the book, Lucy sees Aslan at a distance, but others can't see him, and there's a lot of stuff where Lucy thinks they should follow him, but since the others can't see him, they think that's foolish.  Not listening to Lucy causes some trouble, and when Aslan finally shows up, he berates them for not trusting Lucy, and berates Lucy for not fighting harder for what she believed was right.  The intended message, as I understand, is how faith in God needs to be something beyond what you can see, and you need to hold to that faith even when surrounded by doubt.  Except for me, I read it as Aslan, who in the first book had been directly interactive and helpful, decided this time to act like a capricious jerk and got pissy because Peter and the others didn't trust in him when he acted that way.  Why didn't Aslan just reveal himself to them?  Because he felt like messing with them. 

 *- "Of late" meaning, of course, since it started, which was only a couple months ago.  It's not like this was something I'm finally catching up on.
**- My favorite scene has been when she's trying to tear into Adam, her not-boyfriend, about all the stuff she doesn't know about him, and he responds, "You never ask!" 
***- A Horse and His Boy can die in a fire.

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