Dean’s pick of the month

December 2023’s 2nd Pick

Go with me here for a few minutes, my fine readers. Please. 

I’ve recently produced a chapter in my next book of the Terra Drake Trilogy based on a specific event in my own life. A bulling event that took place when I was 11 or 12. My brother, a few years younger, was with me when the well-known school bully and several of his thugs blocked my brother and me from crossing a bridge to our neighborhood. On summer break. He had ice blue eyes and long white hair. I froze as he took my brother’s bicycle and he and his thugs destroyed it. 

It’s haunted me for decades, often feeling it just happened days ago. I’ve created a new character in this newest book (set for release next Fall) who is based on the life from that event who is me. His name is Mister Boogie, a version of me who takes a different course than the one I’ve taken. This alternate self begins to live his life building and saving an internal warehouse filled with different chunks of rage. Day by day, month by month, year after year until he’s turned himself into something I can’t even recognize as a hint of me: a homicidal serial killer. 

I’ve thought deeply about the alter ego, parallel worlds, and portals that could possibly connect worlds, selves, events, etc. The alter ego is a version of who we could be who has the possibility of coming to life by overpowering a traumatic event (violence, betrayal, rape, etc.) that takes place. This new self uses such trauma that must be dealt with by some part of us who is stronger than who we think we are. Something base. Something alternate.

Something ugly. 

Let’s take my own traumatic event as an example. What would have happened had I rushed the bully and tried to fight him and his gang? Who would I have become with that choice instead of the one where I froze? I was only a child, but such a choice was there regardless of age or experience. What would have happened to me? To my brother? Regardless of what anyone thinks or believes, here is the fact: whatever would have happened with the other choice would be new, different…an altered state that would have been created in an instant into an entirely different world where everything shifted perpetually different just as the character I created as one who builds an arsenal of rage that’s used as a tool for pure ruin. 

The principle that drives this truth is based on common laws of physics where every natural action must have the same course of reaction. Let’s take another example. A woman who is attacked and raped but who also has a gun on her and decides to not use it, for whatever reason. Her life will be far different if her alter ego would have made the choice to use the gun and kill the rapist. Each choice for that woman will become the door that opens where and how she will live. Again, that’s fact, not opinion. 

So, if these kinds of choices exist when trauma takes place, and if other worlds or portals are in fact places where such different events can play out and connect to other versions of different selves, doppelgängers if you will, imagine the endless outcomes that are possible. From selves who could be kings, to selves who could be monsters.

It has been a wild and wicked ride in this 3rd novel to create such characters not only based on me, but also some famous and notorious historical figures who I have always wondered about the what ifs and why’s and how’s; what their worlds could have become. The world I am creating is their perfect gathering grounds where pure chaos is their sanctuary to sit back and reflect on strategic mayhem. 

There is a recent film from the new Angel Studios, The Shift (directed by Brock Heasley) where the premise is all the above and takes it to such altered conclusions with stunning awareness. A loosely modern rendition of The Book of Job, it is the story of Kevin Garner, an alcoholic on the verge of collapse (played by Kristoffer Polaha) who meets the lovely Molly (Elisabeth Tabish in a terrific performance) at a hotel bar just as he’s about to relapse and go for broke. As she begins talking to him, she speaks in such a way of compassion and empathy that her conversation thwarts him from drinking. Instead, they go have tea, get to know each, fall in love, get married, have a son, then lose him through a tragic mistake. 

In that very moment Kevin is visited by The Benefactor, played by Neal McDonough in a performance that will pummel you relentlessly through the backside of your seat. I have seen DeNiro’s Devil in Angel Heart, Pacino’s in The Devil’s Advocate, Viggo Mortensen’s in The Prophecy – all well done. But McDonough’s creation of Satan is one where The Devil brutally hammers home the teachings and principles of hopelessness, the betrayal of God, the uselessness of human existence, the rape of all hope. This is an in-your-face performance where the victims are slapped so hard most never recover, but where each of them awakens to the ferocious questions of Good vs Evil that come spewing from McDonough with such precision and with such controlled rage it is impossible to turn away. 

Without such a performance, the movie wouldn’t work. The storyline itself of portals and alter egos and parallel realities mandated the need for The Devil to drive the storyline. McDonough delivers one of the most harrowing performances of raw yet methodical evil I’ve seen.  

At the heart of the film’s story is how choice affects our life’s outcome by examining Kevin’s life against the ultimate players in his game: all the various selves and alter egos who he finds in altered worlds where Kevin is just a glimpse of who he really is or could be.

For nearly 8 years now sober I have often (almost daily) wondered where my life would have taken me not only had I made a different choice those many decades ago to protect my little brother, but of the countless choices I made while drunk in bars, drunk while driving, wasted in professional settings, fighting tooth and nail on jailhouse floors … a bottomless list. This film and story examine what it could be like if we had a chance to portal into those different lives, see the different players and characters we’d become with different outcomes made. It places the magnitude on choices and their reality as the catalyst that creates the course of our current lives or otherworldly ones.

While this is heavy, dark film, with a soundtrack that’s ruthless in its ability to capture and pull human emotion, it is also a film where the glimmer of hope, even though nearly impossible to reach through all the orchestrated chaos, still exists. It is a film that also demonstrates that regardless of the power and seduction of evil, such power does not match the light of hope and goodness. 

The Shift will be a sleeper but has a message and performance that will eventually catch on. I pick it as one of the best films of the year. As with many films with any kind of God message, pay zero attention to the far-left reviews that are empty and useless. This film has certainly continued my own ways of thinking and creating my next book where my own worlds and events could be seen shifted in time and space. 

Enjoy my fine readers, and Merry Christmas! 


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