I see you, and you see me. I experience you, and you experience me. I see your behavior. You see my behavior. But I do not and never have and never will see your experience of me. Just as you cannot “see” my experience of you. My experience of you is not “inside” me. It is simply you, as I experience you. And I do not experience you as inside me. Similarly, I take it that you do not experience me as inside you.
But the “seeing” of which Dr. Laing writes is superficial, and not the “seeing” that goes beyond “seeing,” which is the topic at hand.
I have tuned my ears to listen for “I see you” in the movies. The idea of “I see you” moments is not original with me, but I have a twist on the phrase that I place a great deal of importance on as a writer and moviemaker.
Two people making the transition from not seeing to seeing is the stuff of which love stories are made. Again, Dr. Laing, in “Knots,” sets up this description of a man and woman in their natural state.
Jill can see Jack can’t see,
and can’t see he can’t see.
Jill can see why Jack can’t see,
but Jill cannot see why
Jack can’t see he can’t see.
Jack ‘sees’ Jill is blind
and that Jill can’t see she is.
Jack realizes they both are.
A relationship takes a turn toward a lasting one when, “I can see you seeing me as you see me seeing you.”
Three movies come to mind — two of them by James Cameron — that illustrate the “I see you” principle.
First we have “Titanic.” While sitting on the boat deck Rose examines Jack’s drawings. She compliments Jack in a profound way. She tells Jack that he sees beyond the figure. He sees the essence of his subjects. Here’s the way the script goes:
I see you.
What Jack sees cuts through the cultural, economic, and class boundary that would ordinary be impenetrable. Jack sees through the spoiled socialite. He sees Rose, and that makes all the difference.
The next example is from “Avatar.”
Jake and the Na’vi are worlds apart. When Jake first encounters Neytiri, one has no idea that the two will ever develop a friendship, much less become emotionally entwined. In the theater my eyes first saw Neytiri as a somewhat repugnant other-worldly creature. But as the story progressed I became aware that through my eyes Neytiri and the Na’vi began looking ‘normal.’ That is, their features were, little by little, not getting in the way. Then comes the moment when I realize that Jake and I have changed. Or perhaps one should say, as Jake and Neytiri changed, so did I.
I See you.
(a hoarse whisper)
I See you.
Neytiri’s eyes brim with tears (so did mine).
Another of my favorite “I see you” moments is found in “West Side Story.”
The cultural divide between the whites (Jets) and Puerto Ricans (Sharks) is so schismatic that all out war is inevitable. But Maria and Tony believe their love can transcend hatred and fear. The two see beyond race and prejudice. Love can do that.
MARIA: No. He is like Bernardo: afraid. Imagine being afraid of you.
TONY: You see?
MARIA (touching his face): I see you.
TONY: See only me.
I have a script in which the protagonist is a reclusive old man in whom resides all the accumulated prejudices of the old South (as opposed to the “New” South of which I am most pleased to be a part). In the story he crosses paths with an African-American nurse and her 10-year-old daughter. She is instrumental in changing his character. But I struggled with how far to take it. In case you haven’t noticed, Americans are still grappling with the acceptance of interracial love and marriage. Don’t believe it? Look at the absence of black-white love relationships in movies. How about even taking a peek at the TV commercials. In general, when family is the focus, they are either all black or all white. I can’t think of any commercials I’ve seen lately that feature what our society has labeled, “mixed marriages.” Don’t you suppose that it’s because Madison Avenue knows its cultural and racial demographics? Marriage between the races even lags behind gay relationships on the screen these days. I’m pleased we’ve made such strides in the latter, but am puzzled (or maybe not so puzzled) at the slow progress regarding the former.
But back to my story. What the story needed is what I needed: An “I see you” moment. A time comes about halfway through Act Two when Noah and Esther are thrown together in a profound way and each needs the other. I struggled with whether to walk away from where the thing was going, or to take a risk. Yes, in 2014 cinematic love between races is still a risk! Let’s be truthful. So, I let the story flow without getting in the way. A seeing experience was at hand. The eyes of Noah and Esther; the eyes of the writer; the eyes of the reader; the eyes of the agent; the eyes of a producer; the eyes of the actors; the eyes of the audience must altogether have an “I see you moment.” Skin color, race, acquired prejudices and fear must be stripped away to the point we see each other as we are, not through the lens of tradition.
Well, let me put it this way. The circumstances that draw Noah and Esther together are so strong that either they must become partners for life, or one of them must die as in West Side Story.
So, there it was on the page.
Noah stands underneath a sprawling moss-draped oak on a knoll above the cemetery where Esther’s father, and Noah’s unlikely friend, has just been put to rest. Esther and Joy climb the hill toward the street. They approach Noah, who by now is a tangled mess of conflicting emotions. Esther stops a few feet away. Their eyes meet. Suddenly black and white are stripped away by the stronger needs that connect them, and must connect them, as lovers.
Noah holds out opened hands. Esther places her hands in his. Black in white. They don’t embrace. They don’t kiss. They hold hands, and in a prolonged “two-shot” we see through their watery eyes lives that will never again be the same.
Their “I see you” moment.
As one goes through the threshold, one sees that the threshold one went through was one’s self.