When approaching the characters of The Black Box as the Director, I hit a wall, that is to say.. a complicated little truth..
There is only one character: The Man.
Of course, nothing is that simple. As a person, he is troubled, conflicted and torn in every direction but the one he really wants. For him, nothing comes easy – even before he became sick with ME he struggled to connect to the world around him because of his high-functioning autistic spectrum disorder. This disrupts the smooth flow of life that most people experience – “a bog standard, switch on your TV and 99% of everyone you find” understands. How do people find life so easy?
While Autism is becoming more recognised and can now be diagnosed much earlier in life than before, for The Man, the world is too full. It’s full of people, noise, light, bumps, emotions, distractions and clutter – stuff that gets in the way. I have tried to include an element of this in the way we edit at times. This can be seen most clearly in the opening shots, similar to how someone with autism can focus on objects in great detail, at the expense of not always grasping the bigger picture.
When we meet “The Man” in The Black Box, he is extremely tired but unable to sleep. ME has stripped away his livelihood and dignity, and has left him in lingering, chronic pain. He moves through life at a snail’s pace, with every simple task becoming a huge undertaking, thanks to his limited energy available. Forgotten or ignored by everyone, including those in society who should care for him, he feels lost, left behind and broken. At moments, all that consumes him is pain, but through determination, he powers on, trying to make things better for himself and connect with the outside world.
“The Muse” represents The Man’s artistic ambitions and creative spirit, thwarted by his disabilities. When we first meet her, She is angry, annoyed and bitter, because she provided him with so many stories and characters, but he has been unable to complete any of them. With so many characters inside of her, The Muse’s persona changes rapidly from second to second. At first, it is the negative side of her that wins, due to her anger and frustration, but as The Man begins to listen to her again, her softer side is revealed as her anger abates and their friendship, their creative union becomes more apparent, and she can once again push The Man on towards new projects and hopefully a brighter tomorrow.
“The Fallen Angel” is the most dramatic character. The oldest and most fully-fleshed out of The Man’s many characters, he has been waiting to be written for a very long time. The main antagonist of his own story, The Fallen Angel used to give The Man nightmares and it is The Fallen Angel’s own anger and the strength of will which turns him into a fully fleshed-out character. Arriving with a purpose to track down his younger brother, The Fallen Angel uses The Man’s own words against him, telling The Man that they are family. He is brutal, powerful and relentless, striking until no more can be struck; The Man’s own worst nightmare made flesh.
The final character is “The Black Box” itself. The confines seem clear-cut, with four black walls, and no way in or out, but how could that be true for a creative mind? The Man is tormented by the earnest Muse and the characters he ignored. Where is he to go but back to bed? Every item that surrounds him holds importance and the ones he’d rather forget are most prominent, in particular his wheelchair, his crutches and the nappies he wears for his incontinence. His only release and progression has been through books and fiction and yet these clutter his way, scattered in all directions. Of all the characters, the Black Box itself is the most mysterious – it never speaks but is always present, shrouding and affecting everything. At times it feels like it is a visual representation of The Man’s ME and Autistic Spectrum Disorder, trapping him inside and forming a barrier between him and the people outside of it.
Encapsulating 4 main characters in one space where there really is only one being, tormenting itself, is an enjoyable challenge. While each character (or space) has their own moment, the bleakness is ever present. The is a never ending feeling of being stuck but caught in a never ending advancement into the shadows. What really lurks in The Black Box?