‘The Lady In The Van’ In The Writer’s Mind

This film is in part about the life of an old lady (who lived in a van), and in equal part about the life of the writer (who encountered her). While both lives are interesting, this review will focus on the writer’s inner life. In the script appears himself as Alan Bennett and A..B., Bennet’s doppelganger who represents the one he has inner dialogues with. As he put it, ‘The writer is double. There is the self who does the writing, and there is the self who does the living. And they talk. They argue. Writing is talking to oneself.’ Be we writers or not, we are as if part active participant and part critical observer in life too – unless we live mindlessly with little introspection.

As good writers do, they reflect as deeply as they can to milk what they can of their experiences. To this effect, Bennett said, ‘A proper writer might welcome such an encounter (e.g. of meeting the lady) as constituting experience. Me, I have to wait and mull it over.’ Mull it over he did indeed, to end up writing a play, that evolved to be a screenplay. In this one life itself, we get to live multiple lives with ever deepening hindsights of the past. This is how good writers end up learning much more from everyday experiences than the average person, and end up ‘teaching’ much more with their works. Even the most ordinary things taken for granted can offer extraordinary lessons.

Some say writers inevitably put themselves into what they write. Some say writers insert alternative selves. Both are true! We explore alternatives selves with our existing sense of self. Writing is a way to meet, record and edit oneself. This is a way to live more fully! Thought experiments worded can affect real life too. Despite all this talk on dualistic ‘selves’, the Buddha realised that there is no fixed outer or inner self at all, since all mind and matter is in constant flux. In fact, this is how we can rewrite the key character (i.e. us) in the story of our lives. We might be ‘in two minds’ due to inner conflicts at times, though this is just the so-called sense of ‘self’ flickering, changing. Enlightenment is not merely becoming one with one’s inner doppelganger by individuating. It is not to attain a unique self, but to selflessly become one with all universal truths.

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