by Walter Chaw After a decade's absence, give or take, I started coming up to the Telluride Film Festival again six years ago at the urging of good friends whom I otherwise hardly see. I was in a bad place and they knew it. They didn't offer platitudes, they offered a challenge, and so one year I accepted it. The hardest thing to do for someone who's depressed sometimes is to accept help. I have come to find that the best gift you can give your friends who worry about you is to ask for help. The problem with depression is it tells you that you are a burden. It's exhausting.
Coming to Telluride has become an annual ritual for me. I hate to drive except when I drive the six hours from my house to here. I can feel impossible knots solving themselves as the miles tick by. I listened to the audio book for Dan Simmons's novel The Hollow Man on my way up this year and found something strange and inspiring within. It talks, among other things, about an idea of how the universe is a fractal tree that branches with each individual decision a person makes in the course of a day/week/lifetime. There are an infinite number of branches on that tree where I'm dead by my own hand or by some misadventure, as well as an infinite number where I am not. Every possibility exists at once and I find myself wondering sometimes about the infinite others and if it's a wonderful life there when it's not always one here.
But the festival. There was a point this year that I realized I didn't want to watch movies anymore, nor talk about them, nor write about them. I was done. There was a great emptiness in my heart. I took my family to Cape Cod and before we went my daughter, fourteen now, said that she was excited because she never thought we'd have another family vacation before she left for college. We'd only had one before. If we had fallen into a different branch, she would have remembered me as a nice dad who worked all the time and there was this one moment in fourteen years where he made the right decision. On the Cape, we went on a seal watch and then, at Chatham, to a very old theatre, where I took my son, who's twelve, to see Jaws for the first time. I felt myself coming back to me a little bit then. I covered FrightFest with all my heart--between features and shorts, I watched over 60 films and wrote on all of them and did interviews with a few directors, too, and came back a little bit more.
Now Telluride. With my friends. And a fractal branch representing this choice I'm making and all the other branches of all the other ones I didn't. I'm here to heal, and to be the best version of myself. I have found at the middle of my life that I am more like Lloyd Dobler than I ever was then. I want to spend as much time as possible with my Diane Court and the kids we've had together, with my friends, and writing about the art that gives me a mirror to contextualize who I am and how I've grown. The other stuff? It just doesn't matter. No one gets out alive. The goal is to end with as much of your soul intact as possible. I've spent my life in pursuit of money and power and it's made me miserable and contemplative. There are infinite branches where I am rich, and titled, and have destroyed people to be unhappy and comfortable. There are infinite more where I am alone with my regrets. And then there's this one, where I have everything I could ever want and one last chance to really, truly value that above everything else. I'm going out on this limb. Wish me luck.