Author: Brian McDonald
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Writer’s Potential: 7
After experiencing his past lives through a hypnotic trance, an ordinary man becomes obsessed with finding the reincarnation of a son his previous self lost in 1720.
SCOTT TOLSON, a young married man trying to make ends meet working at a mall electronics store, has an odd daily routine of buying lunch for an old homeless man (JACK) who hangs around the mall. He can’t explain why, but he feels compelled to buy this man food. Scott begins having strange dreams of being a Chinese boy who is run over by Japanese soldiers during an invasion. He feels the dream is connected in some way to Jack, who speaks fluent Mandarin. Jack reveals that in a past life, he was Scott’s grandmother. He’s spent his entire adult life searching for Scott, has lost his wife, child, job—everything. Scott is horrified, but Jack is insistent to the point of assault; Scott has him arrested. The dream continues to haunt him, so Scott bails Jack out of jail to find out what, precisely, Jack knows about all this.
Jack takes Scott to meet DEL, a homeless man who has taken over a condemned apartment building in a bad neighborhood. Del has the power to hypnotize people and reveal to them their past lives. Unwilling to trade money for precious hours of his life, Del refuses to get a job; he survives on cash donations of grateful patrons. Reluctant at first, Scott eventually allows Del to hypnotize him. He quickly becomes addicted to the process. When his wife, CHERYL, asks him why he’s keeping such late hours, Scott insists he’s been seeing a chiropractor about his bad back. After awhile, Jack fears Scott’s getting too deep into this hypnosis process. Jack fears Scott is looking for something in a past life, but Scott thinks he’s crazy. They part ways bitterly. He talks to Del about what Jack told him, and Del says there are certain lives that are too horrible to relive; his current mind will avoid them, but if he really is searching for something, Scott should search for that “door.”
Scott does, and discovers life as an 18th-century tobacco plantation owner. After trading away the husband and son of a female slave (MINERVA), “Samuel” (Scott’s past incarnation) loses his wife in childbirth and, nine years later, loses his son to illness. Minerva believes that this is the price Samuel deserved to pay for robbing her of her own family. Grief-stricken Samuel realizes his error and refuses to separate slave families in the future. In the present day, Samuel’s grief consumes Scott. After fighting with his wife, Scott first searches among the people he knows for the reincarnation of his son. When he’s accused of losing his mind, Scott disappears altogether, driving straight through from Tacoma to Virginia. He finds the cemetery where his son was buried in 1720 and takes comfort in the fact that what he saw in his trance was true.
When he returns to Tacoma, he finds his life not unlike Jack’s: his wife wants nothing to do with him and refuses to let him to see their daughter, he’s lost his job, and most people regard him as a bum (rightfully, as he hasn’t shaved, changed clothes, or bathed since going to Virginia). In a last desperate act, Scott withdraws all his savings and is prepared to hand the cashier’s check over to Del in exchange for help finding the reincarnation of his son. In order to do this, he will need to force Scott to relive every tragic moment of every life he’s led with that son.
Jack arrives in the nick of time and convinces Scott not to completely throw his life away as Jack himself did. Scott and Jack spend enough time together, living under a freeway bridge, for Scott to waste his savings on food and coffee. Jack, believing he can hypnotize as Del did, wants to help Scott relive his happiest lives. He leads Scott through, and Scott realized he’s lost nothing but his present-day wife and daughter. He returns to them in the end, realizing the ultimate importance of the family he has now.
The idea of these “graverobbers”—folks who can dredge up the accumulated memories of a person’s past lives—is a fascinating idea for a script, but ultimately the author doesn’t do a fantastic job of exploiting such an interesting premise. The most important story element should revolve around what Scott stands to lose as a result of this obsession/addiction: his family and his job. Scott’s family should be his source of happiness; his job, while terrible, should give him the comforting sense of providing for a family he loves more than anything in the world. Realizing what his insane trip to Virginia cost him should devastate him.
However, this doesn’t happen. In the few scenes we get with his family, they revolve around two things: his daughter making creepy references to her own past lives, and Scott lying to Cheryl about why he’s keeping such late hours. Although the author writes that they’re a happy family, the speed with which Cheryl is willing to give up on Scott is pretty alarming. She has no interest in finding out what’s really wrong with him, what’s prompting his obvious lies; she has no interest in helping him, and when he disappears to Virginia, rather than seeing this as an ultimate cry for help, she fully abandons him. Similarly, Scott accepts the loss of his family and his new life as a hobo with an unrealistic rapidity.
If Scott’s family (and job, to the extent that it provides for his family) were shown as meaning more to him, if Cheryl was willing to help or discuss his bizarre behavior, and if their marriage didn’t disintegrate at the drop of a hat, the whole story would really jell in a much more interesting way than it does right now.
While the dialogue rings true and does a better job of developing the characters than their actions, it is unfortunately a little too wordy. There are a great deal of static scenes, where nothing is really happening but Scott narrating a past life, or Samuel narrating as he writes a letter, or Jack reciting depressing monologues to help Scott snap out of it. These characters desperately need to take some kind of action; ironically, when Scott finally does take action, it consists of a montage showing him sitting still in a car for days. As a result, much of the dialogue is expository and would be much more interesting if we were shown actions rather than told about them after the fact.
A note on Del: to use the metaphor the script hints at, he’s like a drug dealer. The first trance is free, but he knows they’ll keep coming back, and they better pay up. It’s implied through the way Scott parallels Jack’s story that most people who stumble on this secret will end up offering Del their entire life savings. So why is he living off scraps in an abandoned building that reeks of decay? He says he refuses to work for a living because it’d take away the precious hours he—what, enjoys the lovely stench of his rotting home? Wouldn’t it be more interesting if he were, if not rich, somewhere in middle class? Living like an average person, but one who has no need to work—full of hobbies and activities, maybe even irritated that these desperate people beg for his help, but he tolerates it because he needs to push them to the point where they hand over that savings check.
The author presents an interesting premise that isn’t exactly exploited to its fullest potential. With some work, though, it could be very interesting.