It’s the question that is
answered in the last line...
Can you hear it?
August Rush Asks a Question
Listen, can you hear it? The
I can hear it everywhere.
In the wind;
In the air;
In the light;
It’s all around us.
All you have to do is open
All you have to do is listen.
These are the opening lines of
last fall’s delightful movie, August Rush, delivered
in the haunting, delicate voice of amazing young actor Freddie
Highmore. The story opens with young Evan, a so-called orphan, leading
a symphony made up of tall grasses in some lush field in upstate New
If you haven’t seen August
Rush, rush out (pun intended!) and get it today because the
soundtrack is soul filling. The pure delight in Evan/August’s eyes as
he creates music resonates in the soul of any writer who loves to try
on words for size, move sentences around, watch a character take life.
Or for that matter, anyone who writes, or runs, or sings or even cooks,
just because they must.
You’ll also learn something
about the use of story question woven clearly, if not overtly, through
every character, every scene in the movie.
A story question, more than a
theme of any story, song, or movie, is a specific question that lingers
behind every scene, every line of dialogue, every action the character
makes. It’s the question that is answered in the last line. It’s the
thing that makes a reader/viewer mull upon the story they’ve
experienced long after the last notes have faded.
What can we learn about Story
Question from August Rush?
Is it possible to hear the music
in a person’s heart? Is music universally bonding? I think anyone who
has been to a concert (Rascal Flatts to Daugherty) will pump a fist
into the air with a resounding yes! But August Rush
takes that question and turns it personal. Can people create
music—essentially expose their souls to the world—and connect with the
one person they’ve been looking for all their lives? This is the
specific question that Evan/August asks as he runs away from his
orphanage and sets out on a quest for his parents. And it’s this
specific question, applied to this little boy, that drags us, fearing
and cheering, with him.
It’s not only Evan/August who
grapples with this question. In a well-woven story, the main characters
all wrestle with some element or mutation of this question. His parents
(Keri Russell and Jonathon Rhys Meyers) experienced the answer—which
cumulated in August’s conception—but years later lost the ability to
listen, to even hear their own music. Until they begin to hear it in
their own souls, they’ll never hear it in August’s. The Wizard, played
by Robin Williams, believes in the universal truth but scoffs at this
personal application, angry with some wretched past at how this hope
has betrayed him. He refuses to listen to the music inside and is angry
at August’s naivety. The effect of August’s quest— and his unwavering
conviction—is shown through the eyes of his social worker (Terrance
Howard), who becomes a believer as he sees August’s dreams materialize.
Although critics might call the story overwritten, even sappy, it’s
enjoyable because the answer to the question is easily accessible. We
see the journey both parents take as they first acknowledge their
“deafness” and begin to open themselves up again to their music; we see
how “music” cares for August, landing him in Julliard, and even when
he’s pulled back to the street, putting him face-to-face with his
father in a wonderfully emotional reunion scene, (clear only to the
audience, not to August and his father.) Then we see both parents lured
first to each other, then to August as he breaks free from Wizard,
believing in the truth, and bares his soul to the world (or at least
New York City). The answer to the story question needs to be revealed,
one page (or scene) at a time, gradually, but visible to the
reader/viewer until it’s finally answered in the last scene.
Admittedly, August Rush
is a feel-good movie, one designed to tug at our heart strings. But it
works. Because by the end we, too, have listened and opened our hearts
to the call of the music around us, and answered the question . . .
Yes, August, we can hear it.