Most stories are about going somewhere. The quest in The Lord Of The Rings is to get to Mordor and destroy the ring. In any Indiana Jones movie he’s trying to get whichever artifact it is he’s after this time. A New Hope is about getting the princess and defeating the Empire.
But sometimes a story’s point isn’t actually the destination or the goal or whatever. The MacGuffin is negligible to the point of being unimportant. The characters’ goal is either arbitrary or nonexistent. In these stories the characters are in between.
“You don’t seem to be lookin’ at the destinations,” says Kaylee to a wandering preacher in the pilot for Firefly, “what you care about is the ships. And mine’s the nicest.” In actual fact, the destination doesn’t matter much to any of Serenity’s crew, because none of them have a destination.
They’re lost, more or less depending on the character. After the Unification War, Malcolm Reynolds doesn’t know where he belongs, just that this ship is his home. The Tam siblings are on the run, but they don’t know where to. They’re just running, getting away. Like the rest of the crew, they have no actual, tangible destination.
The idea of people traveling but going nowhere isn’t limited to Firefly, though. Zombieland, a 2009 zombie/comedy was about a group of survivors who meet up on the journey of, well, survival. The four protagonists; Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita, and Little Rock, are all just wandering the zombiefied United States. Yes, Wichita and Little Rock are trying to get to an amusement park in California, but that’s not their destination. They’re lost, drifters, people who are neither here nor there.
Like the crew of Firefly, they’re people in transit trying to find something. And, like Firefly, they find a sort of home and family in each other, making the drifting that much easier to bear.
Lost in Translation is probably one of the purest examples of this sort of plot. Unlike Firefly and Zombieland, this isn’t just a factor in the plot, this is the plot. We’re introduced to Bob and Charlotte, two people visiting Tokyo. They don’t know each other at first and neither of them have any actual want to be where they are. They’re there because they have to be.
They’re both lost, trying to find some purpose in their visit to this country. Eventually they meet and connect. Bob and Charlotte and still drifting through their time in Japan, but now they’re drifting together. Their connection grows and becomes the focus of the film. It’s these two wanderers who found another one.
But the story remains in limbo. There’s no sense of finality to it all. It’s about a brief moment in time when these two meet and then return to their lives. It’s not about closure or finality: it’s a slice of these two lives. In all the quiet you’re asked to just empathize with them.
I’m writing this a few hours before my train leaves. I’m moving – again. This subject is something I’m more than a little familiar with; long layovers in airports and days spent packing. Maybe I can blame the late publication and poorer-than-usual quality of this particular essay on that. Go read last week’s again for quality.
And now we reach the point where the hastily written essay reveals its true motive: a friend and I published a book this week. The short story collection, entitled In Transit, is about people, well, in transit.
We’ve been working on it for almost a year now, editing it, fixing it, finishing it, and polishing it to the ebook you can now buy on Amazon.
So support a couple aspiring writers and buy our book, I promise you it’s better than this week’s essay.