Paul Haggis questions relationships in ‘Third Person’

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Director Paul Haggis (“Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby”) creates “Third Person” with an ensemble cast of characters beautifully condemning, accepting and teaching of the love and trust in relationships.

The film asks several questions pertaining to trust. During an interview with The Daily Californian, Haggis touched on some questions that affect each of the relationships in the film. “Do you trust someone who’s completely untrustworthy? If you do, and you believe in someone who doesn’t believe in themselves, is love transformative? Do you get the best out of somebody by believing the best of them?” He used these questions to comment on the movie’s main storyline of a man in love with someone who’s so cruel in her responses to his affection.

The man in love with the seemingly callous woman is Michael, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, played by Liam Neeson. He’s out-written his best material in his days of prime and is having an affair with his muse for a new story, Anna (Olivia Wilde). Michael spends his time in the film creating these characters that intermittently reflect pieces of who he is, regardless of if he wants to see it or not.

Much like Neeson’s character, Haggis made this story as intimately personal as he could. “This is a story about the creative process. And what it’s like to be a writer,” Haggis said. “And it has some fairly cruel things to say about how we use people and also, the selfish nature of what it means to be a writer. Who pays the price for that? In my life, my kids did. And that guilt stays with you.”

The plot intertwines with the two of the stories Michael created, which enigmatically connect to one another and his. Scott (Adrien Brody) is an American businessman who steals fashion designs for swap meets. On a business trip, he travels to Italy and meets a Romanian gypsy, Monika (Moran Atias), who’s in need of financial help to find her daughter.

The last story is of Julia (Mila Kunis), a former soap opera star who is in a lawsuit battle to have the chance of contact with her son. Her ex-husband, Rick (James Franco), is holding their son away from her with the accusation that she tried to kill the child. All of the characters are flawed in various degrees, which allows empathy from the audience regardless of how grand their weaknesses.

When asked of the creative process he created for Michael, Haggis spoke of his life characters influencing Michael’s approach to writing. “I really allowed the characters to lead me through it. And I sort of wrote this movie from the inside out.” Haggis continued on how, in his life, he allows the characters to lead him into self-realizations, “Often they went to places that just didn’t work. Other times they took me to things that surprised me. I’d ask, ‘Where the hell are they going with this? Oh my God. That’s where they’re going.’ And so there’s more of a discovery when I’m writing the script.”

Since the characters are perfectly flawed on so many levels, there’s an area left for the audience to think deeper before judging them. Haggis created these characters without judgement in their mistakes by simply telling their stories and allowing them to unfold into interesting ones.

The film may come off as a bit overdramatic at times during some exaggeratedly slow screenshots or cliché dialogues — although, if thought about, the intense moments in real life do actually appear overdramatic to the stranger’s eye and may play back in that way in our minds as well, just without the sappy music.

Haggis’ “Third Person” is a piece on the reality of human flaws. It amply depicts our nature in trusting each other regardless of significant shortcomings. A film that stops us in that moment and triggers a relative memory connecting us to the characters is one that doesn’t come often, and Haggis is rewarded in his bold attempt at making something incredibly personal. But  the sincerity in some of the written scenes such as those with Wilde and Kunis’ performances may be enough for some audiences, but be warned that for others, it may just come off as trying too hard to strum emotional strings.