Afterward - "The Space Dog Has Landed"
This is a quick explanation of what was going through my head while I was writing Laika. It might bore the hell out of you, because it’s full of big words and philosophical mumbo-jumbo, but I threw it in on the off chance that you’re slightly psycho, like me, and dig that kind of thing. Fair warning. Also, make sure you’ve read all sixteen chapters and the epilogue before you read this, because it’s full of spoilers. The majority of it was written early on – somewhere around chapter three – and used as a guide as I wrote. If Laika was released on DVD, this would be the Director’s Commentary.
Laika was an experiment on my part to write a philosophical dramatic comedy, without preaching to the reader or losing sight of entertainment value. I hope I succeeded, at least at the entertainment part. I know that a lot of readers will dislike the ending. Well, so do I, to a point. I wasn’t looking forward to writing the ending, because I knew what it would be. I like happy endings, after all.
But for now, I’d like to explain exactly what I was trying to do with these characters. By doing so, maybe it’ll make it clear as to why it had to end the way it did.
First, I should explain that I wanted the characters in Laika fall into two distinct categories – I’ll call them Free and Bound. Free characters are the ones who do not hold themselves accountable to the expectations of those around them. They understand that in the end, they need to answer to their own hearts and minds, and do not seek approval from the outside world. As such, they tend to be quite content. Bound characters, on the other hand, are searching for self-worth in the form of acceptance from others. They are operating under the assumption that in order to be happy, they need to fit in.
Mark and Corey are the major examples of Free characters in Laika. They are confident in who they are, and are not afraid to show themselves to others. When one of these characters is in a scene, they tend to dominate it, their unashamed personalities drawing in others and making them, in turn, act more Free just by being in the same room with them. Since they are already secure in themselves, they are not the main focus of the story – they are suffering no identity crises, and are not unhappy with their current lots in life. They know who they are, and they don’t care what we think, so there’s no point in explaining them any further.
Nick and Alex are both Bound characters. Brandon is neither Bound nor Free, but rather perched in between. I will go into more detail on them one by one.
I’ll start with Brandon. He’s a somewhat moody teenager who doesn’t feel like he fits in no matter where he goes, and he definitely places some importance on fitting in. When he’s dragged along on a road trip with his brother, he feels out of place, because he doesn’t see himself as being as adventurous as his brother, even though he admires his brother for that very quality. When he’s dragged to a writer’s club with his friend, Dixie, he feels out of place with the room full of “geeks”, even though he describes himself as a geek quite a few times. When he starts hanging around with the band, he feels out of place, because he’s never been interested in music, and doesn’t really understand their culture…yet he keeps going back.
Though he complains about being dragged into these situations, it is clear that he enjoys them. Brandon likes trying new things, but in the beginning, he needs someone else to push him into it. The struggle is between the side of him that prefers the safety of the familiar and the side that enjoys the adventure of discovery. The main thrust of Laika is Brandon’s struggle in becoming either Bound or Free – he sees the advantages to both, but is unsure and slightly afraid of making a leap in either direction.
Next, Alex. I’m mentioning Alex next because he is one of the most important characters when it comes to contributing to Brandon’s growth, and, ultimately, his choice. Alex is an example of a person who requires the approval of others above all else. He did not find it within his family, so he sought approval elsewhere – the punk scene. He went so far as to take on an alias and build a new, false life as a van-dwelling punk for the sake of gaining the approval of his peers in the band.
At one point, it is mentioned that Alex attempts to initiate romantic relationships with nearly everyone he meets. This is because he views monogamy as the ultimate form of approval – it is essentially saying “As long as I have you, I don’t need anyone else to fill this role in my life.” The problem being, he wants that ultimate approval from as many people as possible. When Brandon rejects Alex’s advances, it crushes him, causing him to lash out. This in turn hurts Brandon, who at this point was seeking Alex’s approval as well.
The fistfight between Alex and Brandon marks two important events. The first is the change in Alex. Upon seeing Brandon’s desire to stick up for Corey and hearing of Corey’s desire to stick up for Alex himself, he decides that seeking approval from others based on his own self-inflated image is shallow when compared to the sheer amount of devotion that Corey is willing to put into friendship. The kind of devotion that inspires people to fight for you, rather than simply admiring you.
The second of these changes is the change in Brandon. Upon learning of Alex’s deceptions and feeling the anger that it brought out in him, he realizes the importance of being true to one’s self. This is a major turning-point in Brandon’s life, where he learns not only to stand up for himself and for his friends, but comes to terms with his feelings for Alex, as well. This is the event that sets him on the path to his relationship with Nick, and more-or-less cements him as a Free character.
Nick is on the other side of the spectrum from Alex. Whereas Alex has abandoned his family in exchange for acceptance from his peers, Nick has given up on ever being accepted by his peers in exchange for acceptance from his family. Nick is made a prisoner by his responsibilities. He spends all of his time either at school or working for his parents in the church, and so has no time to spend with friends his own age.
The church is the entirety of Nick’s parents’ lives, and, as such, consumes most of Nick’s life as well. He has been taught since birth that the church is always right, and since his parents run the church, his parents are always right. Unlike Alex, who has problems with his parents, but is able to ignore them, whenever Nick has negative thoughts about his parents, he automatically translates them into negative thoughts about the church, and by proxy, God. This causes intense feelings of guilt whenever he finds himself with a desire to disobey his parents, and directly leads to his depression when he starts to feel attracted to Brandon. This later leads to his bursts of self-loathing after kissing Brandon – he feels that it is wrong to feel happy after going against the teachings of his parents and his church, so he forces himself to feel bad as a form of atonement.
That brings us to the most important point in the story – Brandon and Nick’s relationship. Nick finds himself attracted to Bran’s new-found Free spirit and builds within his mind a vision of Brandon as a cool, popular, rebel who, for some reason, seems to enjoy spending time with him. Brandon is impressed by Nick’s devotion to his family (in spite of the damage it causes) and is moved by his depression. He desperately wants Nick to be happy, because he can see himself in Nick, and knows how much happier he is now that he is Free compared to when he was Bound. That is not to say that Brandon’s interest in Nick is purely a case of “Wounded-Bird Syndrome” – Brandon’s feelings for Nick run deep, as do Nick’s for Brandon.
Brandon’s plan for Freeing Nick involved dragging him down the same route he himself took – punk culture. He does not realize that it was not the music or the concerts themselves that brought him his sense of freedom, but the lessons he learned from his exposure to Corey and Alex, each showing him a direction that he could take and ultimately bringing about a point at which he had to choose.
At this point, though he is going behind his parents’ backs, Nick is still quite Bound. He is desperately seeking approval from Brandon, but at the same time, still wants approval from his parents, and, by proxy, God, who he views as the ultimate approver. He has not felt Freedom, he has simply bound himself to two opposing forces – something that can never last for very long. As such, he feels torn when he hears Brandon singing along to a sacrilegious song, as the two outside influences he most wants to please are placed at odds. When he does not enjoy the concert that Brandon takes him to, he feels like he has somehow let Brandon down – that Brandon would prefer to be with someone like Alex, and that he, unable to fulfill that role, belongs in his church basement, safe in his parents’ (God’s) approval, and out of Brandon’s life for Brandon’s sake.
And since I am discussing characters, I feel, also, that I need to mention Nick’s father, the Reverend Patton. I am sure that most readers were expecting some sort of confrontation involving this character. However, he did not have a single spoken line in the story. I did this because I wanted him to be less of a character and more of a force. A God-figure, Brimstone Patton’s name is known by every character in the story, and the idea of him brings about great challenges and important decisions in the characters’ lives, but the reader never actually sees him speak. Apart from briefly glimpsing him among his followers during a protest, Brandon is never in his physical presence, and never has a conversation with him, knowing him only from the actions and words of those who both follow and oppose him.
I wrote the epilogue afterwards, in which Nick shows up at Brandon’s graduation. I wanted to end the story on, at the very least, a hopeful note. Is Nick still Bound to his parents and their beliefs? Possibly. Or, perhaps, at the edge of adulthood, he has found himself Free, and is seeking out Brandon not for the sake of his approval, but as an admission and validation of his own desires. Maybe I will write more about Brandon and Nick, some time in the future. But for now, let’s just leave them there, standing outside of Curson Public High School’s gymnasium. After all, they’ve got much to discuss, and they don’t need us eavesdropping.
“Laika” – Started November 2005; Completed February 2008.