The mind is either a gateway to interact and experience the outer world or a wall that blocks that interaction, creating an excluding prison from the world’s enriching wonders.
For the mind of William S. Burroughs, as depicted in the recent documentary (playing tonight at the Regent Theater at 9PM), William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, it was the latter.
Some souls live under a blanket of fear, kicking, clawing and screaming at those that dare to tenderly tear away at such barricades of the heart. The fortunate ones maintain an embrace of these natures of the heart. They don’t fear the walls of that inner sanctum’s breach. They don’t pull back in shrieking horror, filled with rage when others only offer love and care. I think by my description so far, you can gather what type William S. Burroughs was shackled by from birth.
He didn’t find release from that pain through his writing, his exploration of his sexuality or his forays into exotic drug use. He found it within deconstructing the last year of his life. A life fraught with turmoil and pain, only to find inner harmony with words last penned in his private journal. His work, his life, his very essence seemed sucked into the black turmoil of which he felt there was no escape. Writing didn’t offer a release, but an attempt to allow the gaze of others to approach at a distance into his innermost workings as an aching human soul.
Caught up more in the myth than the man, A Man Within offers only small glances at the very apparent humanity of the man. Instead the path that is taken through various candid interviews of friends and acquaintances is the more garish and obvious turn toward his bleakness and exterior nature of anguish. Fortunately, smaller moments are captured when former lovers express Burroughs pull away from loving expression or his eternal devotion towards his feline family. It’s here that we’re able to grasp that more things were at play past the singed exterior.
There’s a conflict present in A Man Within much like the man himself, though this conflict is solved in far more efficient fashion than Burroughs was capable of. At times we are shown a man who has no conflict, and seeks refuge in his words, musing and to the outer world, his madness. Then there are moments of confusion that felt disjointed and improperly explained and left muddled either by Burroughs himself or the editors. Relationships with his two children, and their untimely deaths, and also that of his wife, her untimely demise via his own hand, aren’t explored adequately enough to gather how and if these normally large focal points of a person’s life are shown at all to be relevant to Burroughs. There’s a passivity on display here and throughout the piece to selectively illuminate his outer self. The shambling, anti social, sorrow-filled lunatic side, but no explanations are made or seem to be even sought out for the reasons behind him ever having a family at all. There are hints, rumors suggesting that many of his actions were both in defense and in harmonious attack of his sexuality. That hidden conflict with the expectations of the outside world seemed to make him eager to find social acceptance in his rejection of his own desires.
I don’t know what to say about the man after watching this, except that I can empathize with a great deal of his anguish with humanity and self acceptance, and for this reason, this film was a definite success in my eyes. Art leaves a footprint in its wake. Makes you feel, and its resonance is left behind and becomes part of you. If those qualifications aren’t met, than either that project wasn’t really of artistic measure to begin with or simply lacked a poignant direction. With the words, mind and sorrowful heart of William S. Burroughs to use as fodder, the filmmakers at hand have indeed left a footprint in my mind. Hopefully upon viewing, it will leave a footprint on yours.