Molested by the utmost disgraceful thoughts. Subjugated by authority who thought they knew best. Disparaged by contemporaries. These are a few characteristics of a broken soul. Nay, perhaps these were just the characteristics of my broken soul, for one man’s problem is another man’s pleasure.
Regardless, broken souls are everywhere, although I have never been able to relate to one. However, I did see two movies this past year in which I saw myself in both of the main characters. Albeit they were somewhat fictional accounts, comfort and resonation swam through my blood in such a manner that my body was pulsated with the calming vibrations of the interconnection of the human race. For the first time in my life, I was able to fully and completely identify with another person’s struggles. Alas, I will never meet these people, for they were just actors acting out scripts in front of a camera. Nevertheless, I have to say, witnessing someone go through the same struggles I have dealt with felt good. REALLY good.
Might this intertwined feeling of mine, that of consolation and relief, be a result of instinctual selfishness? Who’s to say, that’s a discussion for another time. For now, follow me as I delve into the two characters that helped me feel not so quite alone.
The first character made me realize that we all have our routines, however some become empty burdens rather than a functional categorization of life. Melvin Udall sticks to the same exact schedule every day in order to not upset himself. Rather, in order to not aggravate his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He hates being touched by anyone, is afraid of germs and performs rituals in order to prevent any danger that might come his way. He frequents the same restaurant every day, eating the same breakfast at the same table and eagerly hoping to be served by the same waitress. If something unexpected happened during Melvin’s daily routine, than all hell would break loose. He would become increasingly agitated and uncomfortable, and lash out at others around him. Melvin Udall was, in essence, a broken soul.
Melvin was the first person, fictional or real, that I ever found myself relating to. I used to have the exact same routine every day, and if anything put my routine in jeopardy, I would have a mental breakdown. Growing up, I absolutely hated to be touched by people that I did not know, and I would wash my hands over and over and over until the water ran red with blood. My rituals included everything under the sun, from locking doors to flipping light switches to retracing my exact walking patterns to moving my jaw in precisely the same manner with every bite of food I took. If I was strong enough to deny myself permission to perform such rituals, my mind would become overwhelmed with disturbing thoughts, such as my parent’s being lit on fire and then dismembered. I could not, for the life of me, liberate myself of these thoughts. That is, unless I began to perform my self-degrading rituals again.
As I observed Melvin’s slow but eventual progression into recovery, I felt as though I was watching myself through the eyes of an individual who had also traipsed the wallowing depths of Hell. I felt exultant for Melvin, while feeling grateful and joyous that a certain stranger could relate to his own personal hardships. You see, I was this stranger, because not only did I find someone whose actions were the exact representation of my own, but I also found, inside myself, that lone observer that I have spent my entire life waiting for. That one onlooker who says “I see a piece of you in myself. A piece that has defied all odds. A piece that obliterates any obstacle in life. A piece that, although born flawed and defective, has turned into an astonishingly exquisite specimen.”
The second character offers a glimpse into how I conducted myself when I was a boy. Charlie Fineman’s soul was broken after his wife and daughters died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Charlie was once a sociable and successful dentist, however five years after his family died he is but a shell of his former self. He suffers from PTSD and is a withdrawn social outcast, all the while being judged due to the fact that his actions differ from the norm. When he does traverse the terrifying, carnivorous jungle of civilization he keeps to himself, hiding behind his unkempt hair while blaring his favorite music into his headphones. It is extremely difficult for him to communicate with others, and he takes solace in his house by playing video games in the dark. Charlie Fineman was an extremely promising being whose potential was being devoured by a broken soul.
Watching Charlie aimlessly toddle his way through life pierced my heart as if it was a pumpkin being carved by an overzealous child on a cold and rainy October night. I sobbed throughout the majority of the movie, tears streaming down my face and neck until they became one with the wrinkled shirt I was wearing. I realized that I used to be Charlie. I used to be a shell of my former self. I used to be victimized because of my odd behavior. I used to hide under my hoodie and blast music into my ears to drown out my terrorizing surroundings. I used to have a broken soul that ate up every last ounce of my sweet, innocent potential. Perhaps worst of all, unlike Charlie, I knew what kind of capability and aptitude was bestowed upon me, yet it was eclipsed by my unreserved fear of the horrors of the outside world. I had been beaten down and stepped on so many times in my young life that I was excruciatingly petrified of trusting and depending on anyone outside of my family, and the notion that you can make it through life in this world by yourself is an immense fallacy.
Melvin Udall and Charlie Fineman both redeem themselves at the end of their respected movies, which was yet another reason I could relate to them. I am becoming the man that I have always yearned to be: a thoughtful, honest being who is determined to accomplish his goals and who is strong enough to persevere through the darkest of hours. A loving, caring individual who is exceptionally understanding of others and their afflictions. A man who acquires his intellect through great erudition, and who takes tremendous pride in his intelligence, for he now knows that knowledge is the one thing that can be given to you, but can never be taken away.
I assume that by now you are quite curious as to what the titles of these movies might be. The first movie, starring Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall, is As Good as It Gets, while the second movie, starring Adam Sandler as Charlie Fineman, is titled Reign Over Me. I will always hold these two films in high regard, and I am exceptionally thankful that I stumbled onto both of them.
Although my soul is no longer broken, from time to time I still wage war with my inner tribulations. At least now, however, I have two individuals to think of when somebody tells me that I am not alone in this fight.
Russell Lehmann is a 23-year-old award-winning autistic author and poet who currently manages his own blog.