WRITERS ON SCREEN: The Man from Elysian Fields or Can Failure Make a Writer a Better Man? Pt. 2


In Greek mythology,  Elysian Fields is “the land of the blessed” a place where those whom the gods favored, usually the most heroic and noble souls, were taken to dwell in eternal happiness.

 

elysianfieldsThe Elysian Fields of the 2001 film is an escort service that provides older, refined male companions for the mature wealthy woman, and although it is an allusion to Greek mythology it is an illusion that encompasses the heaven and hell of our personal mythologies as we grow older. Although, I use the collective pronoun “we” this film is clearly about men—men aging, men coming to grips and terms (or not) with the demystification of masculinity through the unavoidable circumstances of growing older, of failing, of seeking redemption and finding it (or not). The men in the film Elysian Fields may have once been favored by the gods, but when we encounter them they are struggling to retain some sense of the noble and the heroic as they service “the ladies who lunch.” Ah, but these men are not in heaven, and they are not happy. They are chasing heaven and it always seems just one step away.

 Fucking is the last resort for a man who feels impotent. – Michael Des Barres as escort Nigel in The Man from Elysian Fields

Byron Tiller, once a promising novelist with one critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful novel under his belt, is at an age when he needs to fulfill the promise he once demonstrated as a writer or work the late shift at Home Depot. Byron refuses to give up the dream, but he does give up some of his self-respect when he becomes an Elysian escort; not so much because he’s fucking for cash, but because he has to lie to his wife.

After a while, they have more money, they’re able to afford a better place in a better neighborhood and wifey pushes any suspicions about her husband’s late night research projects to the side, because she knows there is a big, fat best seller at the end of the rainbow.

Meanwhile, Tiller has become the exclusive escort of Andrea Alcott (Olivia Williams). When she finds out that Tiller is a published writer and an admirer of her husband, the legendary novelist, Tobias Alcott (James Coburn) she schedules a play date for the boys. Her motivation: someone who cares about her husband, someone whose opinion he can respect has to read the first draft of his latest novel and tell him the truth about whether or not it’s up to standard. She can’t do it, so she wants Tiller to be the one. Obviously, this is a damned if he does damned if he doesn’t proposition. Tiller is intrigued. This is like being able to read Faulkner’s first draft of a new novel. How can he refuse? Well, he should have. Maybe Tiller wouldn’t engage in pay to play sex with Faulkner’s wife, but that is absolutely what he’s doing with Alcott’s.

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Andy Garcia (Byron Tiller) and James Coburn (Tobias Alcott) in The Man from Elysian Fields

 

One advantage is that Alcott is terminally ill and probably won’t last until Tiller gets to the end of the 900-page first draft that has taken Alcott 12 years to write. I think this is what has made Alcott so ill–all those years with his but stuck to a chair in a stuffy room, smoking cigars and drinking whiskey tap, tap, tapping away.

 

The novel is a train wreck, but because they are both writers and so far have been observing the unwritten writers’ code—do not savage another’s work, give the kind of criticism you want to receive, something that will help the work and the writer become better. OK so Alcott punches Tiller when Tiller tells him his nine pound,  12-year-old baby does not work, but then Alcott, a writer to his core, wants to know why. Tiller’s response: Alcott has abandoned his strength—relatable characters.

Alcott, who may not live through the revision process, asks Tiller to collaborate with him on the novel with the promise of daily financial remuneration, a co-author credit and a share of the royalties. They make a gentleman’s agreement, however, in his excess of literary bliss, Tiller fails to take into account that Tobias Alcott is no gentleman, and Tiller is still fucking Alcott’s wife—for money.

 I took some pride in knowing I had ruined his life enough to give him something substantial to write about. – Mick Jagger as Luther Fox in The Man from Elysian Fields

 

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Andrea Alcott (Olivia Williams) delivering the bad news to Byron Tiller (Andy Garcia) at the Alcott Mansion

 

Back at the ranch, Dena Tiller is on to her hubby’s shenanigans and won’t shut up about it. She’s shamed by her husband’s actions, so she leaves him. Tiller is sure once The Silent Balladeer, his collaboration with Alcott, is published all will be forgiven. The novel is complete, but the now hospitalized Alcott will not live to see it published. The soon to be widow Alcott, for whom Tiller has developed tender yet unreciprocated feelings, informs Tiller that the novel will be published posthumously and without a co-author credit because the legacy of Tobias Alcott must be kept intact, and here’s a few thousand for your troubles baby, you can still fuck me if you want, bye. Since there was no written agreement between the two men Tiller is screwed. He has no money to launch a legal battle against the estate of Tobias Alcott and its publisher. His wife has left him he has no prospects except his gig at Elysian Fields.

While watching this scene between Andrea Alcott and Byron Tiller when she drops this bomb on his unsuspecting ass I’m thinking, dude if you are a writer you should be plotting out a novel based on this shit, as she speaks. Tiller lives up to his craft and pens Eclipse, a novel that chronicles the dissolution of his marriage and the events surrounding it.

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There is a brutally tender scene in the movie between Luther Fox (Mick Jagger) and his long-time client Jennifer Adler (Angelica Houston) that puts Luther squarely in touch with the difference between romance and commerce. To see Luther’s heart break ever so quietly in that scene makes it all the more touching when he runs into Tiller again. Luther’s abandoned Elysian Fields. Tiller tells Luther he’s a writer now and then asks Luther what he’s going to do. Luther replies, “The best I can.”

 

 

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