What we Make of Life: The Night Listener

Imagine a life so dark and lonely that the only way to survive it is to create an alternate self in your mind and invest your story in that person. You redeem your life by being the healer and helper to that imaginary person. You validate this imaginary world by convincing others that it is real. You are so hungry for any kind of human connection that you will stop at nothing to achieve it.

You're mentally ill, to be sure. Is it possible, though, that you're also creative, an artist of sorts? The Night Listener (IFC Films, 2006) follows the question from the world of the artist into this world of mental illness.

Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams) is a popular radio personality who sifts through his personal life for stories, though Garrison Keillor he is not. His is the world of homosexuality, AIDS, and impending death, not the world of Lutheran pastors, choirs, and church suppers. Like any fiction writer, any good public storyteller, Noone rearranges the details, embellishes, and adds or subtracts as necessary to tell his story. Story as fiction, as entertainment, is not biography. Alteration is at the heart of the creative process. Some theme--a transcendent vision--that speaks to that thing English teachers call The Human Condition is the stuff of art. When alteration is deliberate and done for aesthetic purposes--a desire to touch the human soul--it is an act of creativity.

Storytelling as art is not the same thing as storytelling as catharsis or as coping. Art is not simply and solely the dross of mental illness. (more)