What is a life worth?
Garnet’s Gold opens over the Highlands, over London, over Garnet’s eclectic, cluttered colourful front room as he asks: ‘What happened to life, you lazy man. You coward. Why didn’t you do more?’
In the tallies that we keep – probably these days, on social media – shouting into space the good that we are, what do the fleeting moments of vital, beautiful life mean? What can be claimed without those adult trappings – the mortgage, kids, relationships and all the things on the shelf?
Death comes. What have you collected? Where will it go? What we choose to show others that we are, and what we think of as our selves; what does that add up to in the end? What is the score? And for all those quirky, heart-lonesome souls who can’t belong to anyone?
Cold and clear images of Highland lochs and mountains sear through the stories that affectionate voices tell about Garnet. He is a tall and thin ball of energy. A wildly imaginative, intelligent, passionate person – but note they never say creative. Not a producer but an imaginer. He says himself that this is his great downfall. Always very nearly doing something, until it’s on again. His friends, mother and a past love fondly talk about him as a frenetic unsatisfied idealist. Too busy building dreams to get started.
At 58, Garnet is looking at the life around him and what he’s managed to amass. In terms of the physical, tangible realities it isn’t much. But is that where our value as living beings lie?
In the latest wild bid to bring one dream to life, he is investigating a hunch that, years ago, he might have inadvertently found the hiding place of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s long-lost chest of gold. His plan is to return the Highlands, back to the place where twenty years before he had been lost, alone and stranded in a deserted glen. Only by a miracle was he found before dying of hunger.
By that lonely loch, he had come across an old staff wedged into a rock, submerged in a rivulet – the clue his hopes clutched to. That he might have a chance, one break, to find the gold, to find the life drowning in his dreams.
His mother is a woman canny, bemused and loving as she sees him off from her bed. Knowing him, she had said: ‘Gold isn’t just stuff you find in the ground, or in a box marked ‘x’ on a map. Your life consists a lot of the time of thinking about the past and your place in it. The friends you had. And you gather up fragments of gold from those.’ He cares for her, with mountains of pills, doctor’s visits, slow aching steps, as she cares for him, loving after her heartfelt, burning, aching boy.
‘When will I be free?’ he asks.
And so he returns for the gold. The closer he gets in the hills, the more his thinking out loud takes a tone of nearly angry bitterness. The things beyond words, the unpronounceable nature of the desire he has, too monstrous for form. How crushing is the weight of the heart’s desire. The insult it is that he could lack all the resources to have what he wants, but frustratingly, never lose the impatient store of joy that having it could bring.
In the Highlands, his body becomes the landscape. The fragility of his whiskered cheek weighed against the shadows hanging on the other side of his nose. Worried crows feet on the dark green hulking hills.
Near the end, standing in a river rapids he plunges underneath the water, too full of longing, frustration and feeling. The weathered arm skin of his ageing body against the ancient rocks and water is enough to break your heart. Delicate as we humans are.
‘Turn around – and you’re tiny. Turn around and you’ve grown,’ he sighs.
It’s a film embodying the question of Kafka’s beautiful line: ‘You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.’ Garnet stands above the cloud layer on top of a hill, the mist writhing before him as he stands and whispers to the sky, ‘Thank you, world.’
Written by Heather Lune