WRITERS ON SCREEN: THE GHOST WRITER – Is Money Enough?


What have you gotten me into? The Ghost Writer to his agent

MV5BMTI3NzMwMzkyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODk4NjQxMw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_The literary gun for hire known as a ghost writer has been around as long as books have been  published. I was really disappointed to find out one of my favorite autobiographies, Ecstasy and Me by actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr was “ghosted” by Leo Guild known as “the worst pulp novelist ever” and that it’s mostly fiction. Although it was approved by Hedy before she even read it  after she had read it she called it “vulgar, false and fictional,” but I read it when I was a virginal teenager and I thoroughly enjoyed the salaciousness of it.

This is pretty much how most of us know about ghost writers, they write the celebrity “autobiography” that may or may not be true. But many literary attempts, successful and not so, have been ghostwritten by some formidable writers like Katherine Anne Porter, Sinclair Lewis, Larry McMurtry, Robert Graves and even HP Lovecraft. Writers need to write and they also need to pay bills and buy food.

This is not exactly the position of the British ghost writer, whom I will call Ghostwriter X (he does not have a name in the film) as portrayed by Ewan McGregor in the 2010 neo noir political thriller The Ghost Writer. Ghostwriter X is doing pretty well. He’s the go-to guy if you want a ghost writer who will get your book on the New York Times bestseller list. So, it comes as no surprise that when the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), needs a ghost writer to replace the original ghostwriter of his memoirs, who also happened to be his aide, Lang’s people choose Ghostwriter X. What happened to the original ghostwriter? He washed up on a beach near Lang’s island retreat off the  U.S.New England coast  the victim of an apparent suicide, but both we the audience and GhostwriterX  find the suicide story suspect.

Ghostwriter X’s agent, Rick Ricardelli (Jon Bernthal) pitches the project to him:

“The kids won’t starve.”

“I don’t have any kids.”

“I do.”

Ghostwriter X is guarded, feeling himself out of his depth after he and his agent attend a heated meeting with Lang’s publisher, lawyer and editor. He withstands an interrogation worthy of the KGB, but his agent salivating for the coin says: “He’s fast and he delivers,” which makes GhostwriterX sound like Domino’s Pizza. To his credit GhostwriterX jumps in on his own behalf and passionately states his case. His ghosted memoir will come from the heart; people are going to feel this shit. I was convinced, apparently so were his interrogators, because, as his agent informs him at home later, GhostwriterX will receive $250k for one month’s work on the already extant manuscript, which subsequently will be referred to as the bomb not because it’s a clunker, but because it is explosive.

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Director ROMAN POLANSKI and EWAN McGREGOR on the set of THE GHOST WRITER

 

This film has a tight, lean, no nonsense quality very much reminiscent of classic Hollywood noir, and that has everything to do with Roman Polanski’s directing, and Ewan McGregor’s performance, which includes a rear nude shot of the lovely McGregor bum, which I always find a plus.

Polanski co-wrote the screenplay with Englishman Robert Harris author of the original source material, a novel entitled The Ghost. Robert Harris is an interesting guy. Before he started writing fiction he was well known as a journalist and a BBC TV news reporter, and he was an acquaintance of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, with whom by his own admission, Harris had a bumpy relationship that ended on a bad note when Blair committed British Forces to Iraq.

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Author, Robert Harris (courtesy of The Guardian)

Harris, who had wholeheartedly backed Blair in his bid for Prime Minister, purportedly dropped his other writing projects to write The Ghost in which the character of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (a dead-ringer for Tony Blair) is brought before the World Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the insistence of his former Foreign Secretary, Richard Rycart. The subtext reads CIA. involvement.

Some peace protesters are trying to kill me! – The Ghost Writer to his agent

In the film The Ghost Writer, the actor who portrays Rycart (Robert Pugh) bears an uncanny resemblance to Blair’s real life Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook. Harris allegedly stated during an interview that The Ghost Writer could also refer to Tony Blair “ghosting” the rationale for the invasion of Iraq for George W. Bush. Adam Lang, the Tony Blair figure in the novel and the film, along with his bitter, insufferable and manipulating wife, Ruth (played brilliantly by Olivia Williams) make Macbeth and his Lady look like amateur night in Dixie. GhostwriterX’s initial hesitancy proves prescient.

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Olivia Williams and Peirce Brosnan as Ruth and Adam Lang in The Ghost Writer (2010)

Ghostwriter X  acts like a writer. He wants to know everything and he’s totally unconcerned about being smooth. He’s not concerned with  being diplomatic, he can’t be diplomatic  he spends too much time alone—writing. When he sits down to talk with Lang about the project he’s dressed in a jacket and tie (to Lang’s running outfit) and he sounds like a writer: “I interview you. I turn your answers into prose. Here and there I add linking passages imitating your voice.”

And here is something that we do not see as much as we should in a film about a writer (except if the film is adapted from a novel about a writer by Stephen King): we see GhostwriterX writing, revising and editing. Heart be still! We also see him reading. Yes, children he sits down and reads Lang’s monumental tome until he’s finished six hours later. I love this guy.19ghostspan-1-articleLarge

I’m leaving out quite a lot here in case you want to watch The Ghost Writer (and I recommend you do). Suffice it to say things do not fare well for GhostwriterX as he uncovers  information that not only causes him to trust the wrong people, but also puts his life in peril.Towards the end he just wants to go home. He tells his agent he doesn’t know if he can finish the book, not after all that he’s learned and been through. The agent being an agent says sure you can, just go home and finish it there. GhostwriterX ‘s face registers disgust and fear. Cut  to copies of the finished book rolling en masse off the presses. A writer’s got to write and pay bills and buy food even if, in the end, it costs him far more than he bargained for.