LOS ANGELES — Writer Joel Silverman is taking a big chance. He's written a film inspired by real life - his own. However, he has deliberately sheltered his nine-year-old son from direct comparisons, by creating fictional characters whose lives are all deeply impacted by the same, seemingly simple decision that Silverman himself made - to keep and raise a child conceived with a woman he barely knew.
His first feature film, "Nailed," focuses on a young writer, Jeff, whose one-night fling with a stranger produces a baby. This reality forces him to confront not only his own notion of manhood, but to wrestle with his relationship to his family and the larger community in which he exists.
Silverman says this is not a pro- or anti-abortion film. Rather, it is one about self-examination in the midst of a culture that has drifted into a deepening sense of selfishness and isolation.
"One of the common feelings in our society is that anything that will upset our course or demand sacrifice is almost avoided," says the writer, who penned numerous romantic comedies for television prior to writing "Nailed."
"Let's just wipe it away any way we can, we say, so we don't have to deal with unpleasantries, even when that thing may be the very reason for our existence."
Demands from his own father to abort the baby surprise and confuse Jeff as he struggles to do what he considers the right thing for all concerned.
"There are many fathers around this country who would want this situation wiped away by their sons," says Silverman, who deliberately created a large, loving family structure for Jeff, to allow him to investigate all the repercussions of his decision beyond his own life.
"We're all conditioned to say, 'this is my life,' but it's not just your life. You are part of something much larger; you're part of a family, and we owe certain things to our families, so we can't just act independently, not realizing what we're doing is hurting those around us," Silverman says.
As Jeff struggles with what it means to be a man and "do the right thing," his film father also must come to terms with a new definition of manhood. "He's trying to become his own man, and his ideal of a man is his father," Silverman says. The great issues of previous generations, such as wars, that helped form young men's sense of manhood, have not been as obvious for this generation, he says.
"There just aren't the big issues in our day that help build character," he says, which leaves his protagonist to struggle within his own life. "He's sensitive.... For him, manhood means being a father, even though family for his own father means making the hard decisions, like a soldier."
Actress Mary Kay Place, who plays the character's mother, says she believes the film deals with one of the most important issues of our day, the integration of the masculine and feminine sides of the psyche. "To truly become a man, he [Jeff] has to accept his femininity," the actress says.
Ultimately, the father must choose between demanding his son to do his bidding, and losing contact with him, or loving him and keeping the family connected.
Ms. Place says, in the end, the son's decision to buck his father's "tough" approach to being a man brings about change in the father as well. This, she says, goes to the heart of the movie's meaning. "When a person has searched his soul and made authentic decisions, those can often move the consciousness of the entire family forward and open the horizons of those traditional ties."
"Nailed" is still in search of a distributor. Silverman acknowledges his film is a difficult one for mainstream Hollywood to market. But he is confident that there is an audience for it.
"At the premiere of the movie," he says, "I must have had 10 guys under 25 who say this is the way they felt [about fatherhood and femininity], even though they know it's not the popular thing."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor