A World of Speculation

Changing Lanes is a morality tale of two men who have a traffic accident and spend the rest of the day alternately trying to make peace and destroy the other.

The young lawyer, played by Ben Affleck, is driven by ambition and fear to lie, deceive, manipulate — skate over the daily moralities that make society work.

The middle-aged insurance salesman, played by Samuel Jackson, is driven by his frustration into a series of rages, from which he (almost) always pulls back before property loss becomes loss of life./p>

About midway through the film, I was watching the Affleck character melt down, going from one despicable act to the next. My heart was racing, and I wanted to cover my eyes. I thought, this is the “pity and fear” Aristotle was talking about as the audience’s response to a tragedy. Was I watching a tragedy?

The question dovetailed onto a discussion in a writers’ forum. Could anyone think of a tragedy published in America since Death of a Salesman? I couldn’t. Still can’t. But I thought maybe Changing Lanes was one. It had the tragic hero, the fatal flaw, even the catharsis — the lawyer’s thrilling but non-injury crash on the highway that left him in the same place where Jackson’s car had been left early in the morning.

It ended on a redemptive note: both men learned from the experience, used it to transform their lives. That’s OK with me. I’m enough of an American to like redemption.

But I wonder if that says something about us as a people. We want to see people change, not suffer the ultimate consequences of their actions. We still go to watch Macbeth, but we don’t write Macbeth — or if someone is sitting up late at night drafting the next Macbeth, there are not many publishers, no screenwriters queuing up to bring it to the wider public.

Still, if you get a chance to see Changing Lanes, I highly recommend it.