Arlen Faber is supposed to be the guy who knows everything. Years ago, he wrote a best-selling spiritual book called “Me and God.” He never wrote anything else, but everybody wants to meet the man who’s so wise and so close to God.
The only problem is that Faber avoids the world. He feels like a fraud. He hates people and has nothing new to say. He’s an unhappy recluse who lives in anonymity — until circumstances conspire to bring some new people into his life and turn everything upside down.
“The Answer Man” didn’t get great reviews when it was released in 2009, but it quickly became one of my favorite movies — all because I felt an awful, uncomfortable sense of identification with Faber’s character. His story isn’t mine. The terrible way he treats people isn’t the way I treat people. His overt anger and language aren’t like me.
But something in the story of a tortured character who is forced to come to terms with who he really is — in ways that require him to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers — resonated with me in an emotional way. I watched it again last night and I had the same irrational and emotional reaction to it.
What movie tells the story of your life? I realize that no movie tells your actual story — unless someone’s made a bio-pic of your life — but there are sometimes movies that we can strangely identify with, even if the plot line is nothing like what’s actually happened to us.
Maybe we strongly identify with a character (for good or bad). Maybe it shows a lesson we’ve learned or a lesson we know we need to learn. There can be a lot of reasons.
Do you have any movie like that for your own life?
Although there are movies (and characters) I would prefer to identify with, I still have this inexplicable feeling of identifying with Faber’s character — and I’ve known since I first saw the movie that I need to learn something from him.
It’s considered a romantic comedy, but the Faber character is far too relatable for me to laugh at it too much, even though the over-the-top portrayal of someone who hates the world is an exaggeration of anything I’ve ever felt. When I watch the film, I go back and forth between shame at the portrayal of some things I see as my own inner faults when I hide from the world and emotional delight and hope as Faber takes a chance on becoming vulnerable and growing in order to win the love of a woman and her young son.
Toward the end of the film, Faber faces a crowd in a book store for the first time in years. They’re pressing him for wise answers to their problems. He finally tells the truth.
“I’m not a guy with answers,” he suddenly cries out with both frustration and relief.
“So you’re just like the rest of us,” asks the book store owner.
“Uh, not yet, but I’m trying,” Faber responds as he slips away from the crowd.
I can’t tell you exactly why I identify with this movie so much. Part of it is his longstanding disdain for others and his fear of being seen as a fraud. Another part is his intense loneliness and his struggle to become acceptable to a woman when he finally meets someone who’s everything he’s wanted.
But in all of that, nothing sums up what I identify with like that line from Faber about being as good as everybody else: “Not yet, but I’m trying.”
I’ve been struggling for years to find the right way to accept who I am, for both good and bad. The things which made me exceptional in some ways were also the things which made me feel so separate from the world.
I still haven’t worked out exactly how to be who I am but still connect with more people in emotionally healthy ways. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.
Note: You can see the trailer for “The Answer Man” here. Reviews were mediocre, but I think it’s best seen as a life lesson for me rather than as a romantic comedy. Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham are the romantic leads. I don’t know where you could see the film these days, but I have a copy, so if you’re ever with me, I’ll share.