Where does compassion for a subject in one’s novel begin and desire to finish the story end? Is it right to use actual people to write something and hope that they will die soon so that you can finish writing? Do we as a society have the moral right to take the life of another human being even if that person has killed someone? Are we capable of realizing how momentous and irreversible death is?
Writers, I think, are highly selfish people. They live for their craft and characters and usually interact with society insomuch as it often gives them ideas for new stories. To them nothing matters more than getting a story down on paper and most importantly finishing it. They have to maintain a unique relationship with their characters. They have to be honest and caring but detached enough to not get personal and impose their own view on the people in their books. It is this conflict that Capote struggles with as he writes ‘In Cold Blood’, arguably his most famous work.
On one hand he is a narcissistic man in love with himself and on the other hand he has a compassionate heart. He is unable to detach himself from the people who form characters in his book. He wants to finish the book but for that to happen the protagonists have to die. So he vacillates between not helping them find a lawyer so that their appeal against the death sentence cannot go forward and hating himself for being so self-absorbed.
He cannot help himself from developing an affectionate bond with a person who has murdered a family in cold blood. He begins to care for him. He wants to help him delay the inevitable. But deep within all this affection is his selfish desire to be done with the book, a book which he has proclaimed, even before he has written a word of it, as his best. So he struggles to find a moral center, a justification for what he is doing, and he fails.
Philip Seymour Hoffman justly deserves all the praise he has been getting. His is a sublime performance and is one of the best I’ve seen in recent times. He achieves the rare distinction of slipping so much into the character’s skin that you no longer see the actor; you only see the character he portrays. He carries the film solely on his shoulders and never falters. The moment near the end of the film when he truly realizes what is about to happen, the way Hoffman breaks down made my eyes water with genuine empathy for what the man was feeling. It was a supreme achievement. Praise should go to the director Bennett Miller as well. It is hard to believe that this is his first feature film. To show the internal conflict Truman Capote underwent when writing one of the most important book’s of the 60s in such a brilliant manner; Miller can be proud of the perfect jewel he has crafted.