While the very basic plot line is the same, from here on out I diverge from the movie quite a lot in spirit and intent. It seems simplistic to make Empathicalism into a joke (goodness knows, empathy is badly needed in today's world) and Elijah completely misguided.
How did everything go so wrong so quickly? That was the question Sean asked himself as he squelched through the lobby of theMeurice to the elevator. Only that morning, after the most incredible night of his entire life, he'd been holding Elijah in his arms and dreaming about a future with him, and now that future was in serious doubt.
Sean got in the elevator, avoiding looking at himself in the mirrored back wall, and hit the button for his floor. He'd bungled matters as badly as they could possibly be bungled, and he had no idea if they could be set to rights. He wanted to believe that they could, but his relationship with Elijah wasn't a photo he could retouch. It was real life, messy and unpredictable. He wasn't in the darkroom now.
The elevator rose silently upward, in direct opposition to Sean's feelings, that were lower than low. He'd hurt Elijah badly by implying it was only his looks that mattered to him, and in turn Elijah had hurt him badly by once again scorning Sean's work, calling it 'nonsense'. Okay, so maybe it wasn't Nobel Peace Prize, save the world stuff, but he, Cate, Ian, Andy, Marcel, Yves and Henri had busted their asses to create something beautiful and memorable. He'd thought Elijah got it, that he'd come to enjoy being a model and to value the dedication and teamwork that went into shooting the collection. He'd thought, in short, that Elijah empathized with them. Had it all been a lie?
With a ding the elevator came to a stop at Sean's floor. He got out, continued squelching down the hall to his room and let himself in. Just inside the door he halted, for a thought had occurred to him, and a most unpleasant one at that. Elijah had made his scathing comment after being in the great Professor Whatsisname's company and discussing 'doing useful things together', the sorts of things that, presumably, didn't include fashion photography. Such a volte face didn't seem coincidental, and a cascading sequence of unhappy thoughts followed him into the bathroom, where he stripped off his clammy clothes and rubbed his chill, damp skin with a warm, thick, fluffy towel. It should have been bliss, but he'd have traded it in a heartbeat for the tiny cramped bathroom at the hostel with its thin, coarse towels.
The truth was that Elijah had said 'I love you' to Sean before meeting his idol, a man he'd worshiped for years, a man whose philosophy had shaped his life, a man who also happened to have an attractive exterior and a magnetic persona. Viggo Mortensen's total package was a knock-out. What if Elijah decided that he'd made a mistake? After all, he was very young and inexperienced, and he'd spent days in close proximity to Sean in the most romantic city in the world. It was enough to go to anyone's head, make him say things in the heat of the moment that he thought he meant but later realized he hadn't.
Which would be total and utter disaster, because Sean had meant every single word of what he'd said, and he couldn't simply un-fall in love, go back to the old Sean whose most enduring relationship was with an inanimate object. Having had a taste of what real love was like, he wanted to feast on it for the rest of his life, not leave the banquet empty-handed and broken-hearted.
But maybe he didn't have to leave the banquet empty-handed or broken-hearted. Out of the ashes of depression and doubt rose hope and determination. Sean hadn't gotten to where he was, the pinnacle of a very competitive profession, by giving up at the first setback. He had to believe that Elijah still felt the same and that all was not irreparably lost.
Shrugging into one of the hotel's luxurious monogrammed bathrobes, Sean made his way into the bedroom. He made a beeline for the bed, where he sank down on the sumptuous rose satin duvet, and reached for the phone. He called the youth hostel, but if Elijah was there, he wasn't answering. Sean called several more times while he got dressed, but with no better success. He contemplated going directly to the hostel, but if Elijah didn't want to talk to him, what were the odds he'd want to see him? Sean was pretty certain no magic trick, however impressive, was going to smooth things over this time.
Maybe a cooling off period would be wiser, he thought, and decided to go to the salon instead. Elijah would be there in a few hours to model the collection anyway, and hopefully by then he'd have calmed down enough to be willing to accept Sean's apology and begin again.
When Sean arrived at the salon, he found Cate and Ian sitting at a table drinking coffee and looking shell-shocked. She had her iPad in front of her and Ian his Blackberry. Around them, Ian's employees plus extra crew hired for the day were hustling, simultaneously clearing the godawful mess from the stage and getting things ready for the fashion show, scheduled to begin at eight o'clock.
Sean dropped into an empty seat at the table and asked baldly, "So, how bad is it?" On the ride over in his cab he'd checked his iPhone, and a truly frightening number of texts, emails and voicemail messages had already accumulated - enough to make him half wish that his phone hadn't survived the deluge. He'd opted not to look at or listen to any of them, having a very strong suspicion what they would contain. Besides, the only person he cared to hear from right now was the only person who wasn't going to be texting, emailing or leaving voicemail for him.
In answer to his question, Cate held up the iPad. There on the screen, in all its lurid glory, was a photo of the stage, with Sean on his ass in the basin surrounded by fallen trees and pieces of the fountain, and Elijah cringing against the backdrop as water cascaded over him. The caption underneath read: Ineffable Charm or Epic Fail at the Quality Man Launch? You Decide.
"Ouch." Sean winced.
"Take my advice and don't google 'Quality Man', at least not for the next century or so," replied Cate, and slipped the iPad into a monogrammed Louis Vuitton cover. "The only blessing is that most of the phones and cameras were ruined in the flood. It could be worse. Of course, we'll probably end up having to pay for all of them." She gave Sean a pointed look.
"It's bad enough, Cate," said Ian gloomily, staring at the screen of his phone as if it might bite him. "Everyone is laughing, on Twitter, on Facebook, you name it. God knows what the newspapers will say tomorrow."
"I'm not laughing," Sean said.
"I should think you wouldn't be, Sean. This is all your fault," Cate replied.
"I know it's my fault." Sean sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I screwed up big time, said and did some things I shouldn't have." Figuring he might as well come clean and face the music, he added, "I behaved like a jealous idiot over that Mortensen guy, and Elijah got mad at me. It was a lovers' quarrel."
"A what?" Cate exclaimed, looking incredulous, while Ian looked up from his phone and stared at him with equal incredulity. "You can't be serious - you and that boy?"
Sean huffed a laugh. Her reaction was about what he'd expected. "Why not?" he asked.
"It's impossible." Cate waved a dismissive hand. "You belong to the fashion world. Face it, we're a cold lot, artificial and totally lacking in sentiment. How can you possibly be in love?"
"I'm a black sheep," Sean joked.
Despite their 'history' together, Ian was far more interested in his clothes than in Sean's love life. "And what about me? What about my collection? If Elijah doesn't come tonight, I can't show it. Where will we ever find another model his size?" He slapped his palm on the table, making the china coffee cups and silver teaspoons rattle. "I am facing ruin, Sean. Ruin!"
"Ian, don't worry," Sean replied soothingly. "Elijah will show up; he has integrity."
Cate's snort was a masterpiece of derision. "Oh, he's simply filled with virtues, isn't he? Only he isn't wasting any of them on us."
Sean opened his mouth to object, but at that moment Cate's cell phone rang.
"Andy, what did you find out?" Cate demanded. She listened for a minute then said, "Oh he did, did he? Four times?" She shot an exasperated glance at Sean. More silence. "Oh he did, did he? What was the message? Wait a moment, I want to write this down."
"Cate, what's going on?" Sean was about to burst with frustration at the one-sided conversation.
"Shush," Cate said, removing a gold plated pen and a small notepad from her Dior purse. "Go ahead, Andy." She scribbled then said, "Got it. Bless you, you're a genius." Pause. "A raise? I'll think about it. Now get back here to the salon asap." She disconnected.
"Cate..." Sean said impatiently.
"I sent Andy out to find Elijah," she explained. "He wasn't at the café so Andy went to the youth hostel, but he wasn't there either."
"Never mind where he wasn't, tell us where he is," Sean said impatiently.
"I'm getting there. Andy, ah, persuaded the desk clerk at the hostel to tell him if Elijah had gotten any telephone messages. He said," Cate went on dryly, "that someone named Sean Astin called four times."
Sean's cheeks heated.
"Someone else called Elijah, too, but only once: Viggo Mortensen."
Embarrassment vanished in a flash as another emotion elbowed it out of the way. "Mortensen called?" Sean exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "What did he want?"
"Having an evening of international philosophy, poetry, song, and meditation tonight at my home. Would be delighted if you would join us," Cate read from the notepad. "Well, obviously that's where Elijah will be, if he's not there already."
"And not here, showing my collection?" Ian groaned and clutched at his hair. "That's it: I'm ruined, finished. I never should have agreed to give you an exclusive, Cate."
"Don't fly into a panic, Ian," Sean said. "Since this is my fault, I'll fix it. I'll go to Whatsis - I mean Mortensen's - and bring Elijah back here to show the collection. You have my word on it."
Cate picked up her purse and stood. "Maybe you'd better take along someone who isn't emotionally involved," she said, and tucked the purse under her arm. "For instance me."
Maybe it wasn't a bad idea for Cate to come with him at that. Not that it mattered if he thought it was the worst idea in the history of the world. As he'd said to Elijah what seemed a very long time ago, 'One never talks to Cate Blanchett. One only listens'.
"All right, let's go," he said. Then a thought occurred to him. "But where are we going? I have no idea where Whatsis, I mean Mortensen, lives."
Cate flourished the notepad. "Already taken care of, thanks to Andy."
"I owe that man another drink," Sean said, and they were off.
Professor Mortensen's address was in Le Marais, an area that Sean knew well. He'd spent considerable time over the years in the neighborhood that was the cultural hub of Paris's gay community, and had in fact been planning on taking Elijah to a favorite and very romantic restaurant there over the weekend. That the Professor lived in Le Marais only rubbed salt in a very raw wound.
Their taxi pulled up in front of a two story maison bourgeoise in Hauts-de-Seine, barely a stone's throw from the river. Empathy obviously paid very well, Sean thought sourly. Not that he himself was exactly poor, but the pay of a fashion photographer, even one as successful as he was, didn't run to houses like this. He reminded himself that Elijah, of all people, wasn't likely to be impressed by material wealth. But somehow it was small consolation.
"Nice," Cate remarked as they got out of the taxi.
"Yeah," Sean agreed with a decided lack of enthusiasm.
"Now, now," she said, patting Sean on the arm. "There's more to life than money and a fancy house - although what, I'm sure I can't say."
"Gee thanks, Cate, I feel so much better now."
Leaving the taxi idling at the curb, in hopes that they would soon be returning with Elijah in tow, they went through the front door, which was standing ajar.
"Trusting folk, these Empathicalists," observed Cate.
As they walked down a hallway laid with diamond pattern black and white tiles, the wall on the left caught Sean's attention. It was covered with photographs, most in black and white, and his eye was immediately drawn to them. Professional curiosity had him stopping to take a closer look. He didn't recognize the style, but whoever had taken them was talented indeed. He searched for the photographer's signature, and found it in the lower right corner: V. Mortensen.
Well, fuck, Sean thought. Not only gorgeous, intellectual and wealthy, but also artistic. A quadruple threat. Damn the man.
At the end of the hallway a door opened onto a spacious living room filled with exquisite artwork and decorated with vintage Danish Modern furniture that had Cate saying admiringly, "Well, everyone's favorite Empathicalist certainly has good taste. That's an Ole Wanscher chair and sofa over there."
To which Sean replied sotto voce with some exasperation, "Cate, would you please shut up?"
"Sorry, darling. If I can find a fault with the man, I'll be sure to point it out."
Sean ground his teeth.
A large crowd was already in residence, many young and dressed in retro hippy style. Empathicalists, Sean noted, appeared to favor peasant blouses, tie dye and peace symbols. Also scruff. Every young man present sported it to one degree or another. But there were people present of all ages, races and colors, and it struck Sean that, whatever his personal feelings about Mortensen, Empathicalism was clearly both popular and universal.
The Ole Wanscher sofa was empty, the majority of the guests opting to sit on throw cushions on the parquet floor, so, not certain yet what the best course of action was, he sat down and Cate took a seat beside him. Around them, people were talking animatedly in a variety of languages, or singing, or playing the guitar, or sitting in lotus position meditating. It struck him that not a single person had a cell phone in hand. No one was texting or emailing - they were too busy engaging with others face to face. There was a vibrant energy in the room, he discovered, the kind he was used to finding during a particularly productive and challenging photo shoot. The air fairly crackled with it.
"A lively bunch, aren't they?" Cate remarked, obviously sensing it, too. "What on earth do they find to talk about?"
"I have no idea," Sean said, and he realized that he'd never discussed Empathicalism seriously with Elijah. After the incident at the café, he'd assumed it was a bunch of bunkum and Elijah foolishly naive. In short, he'd been dismissive, almost contemptuous, of something in which Elijah believed passionately, even referring to it as 'small talk'. Maybe he'd been hurt by Elijah putting down his work, but wasn't he guilty of the same crime? It wasn't a comfortable realization for a man who had always prided himself on being open-minded. Here was some serious food for thought, but not right now. Right now Elijah's whereabouts were a more pressing concern. He was nowhere in the living room, and neither was Mortensen, who should have been front and center. Coincidence? Sean sure hoped so.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, Sean caught sight of a familiar form entering the room. It was Elijah, and with him was Viggo Mortensen. Fuck. Both men were casually dressed in jeans and tee shirts and their feet were bare. Deep down, Sean had nurtured a secret hope that Elijah wasn't at the Professor's, that he and Cate had embarked on a wild goose chase that would end back at the salon where they'd discover Elijah being readied to show Ian's collection. No such luck, it seemed, and those bare feet spoke volumes. This wasn't a fleeting visit; Elijah clearly had no intention of fulfilling his responsibility to Cate, to Ian, to everyone involved in the show. Anger stirred inside Sean then. Yes, he'd fucked up big time, but Elijah had no right to punish everyone else and cause them real financial and professional hardship.
As Mortensen led Elijah up a staircase to their left, Sean discreetly elbowed Cate and said, "Ooklay up the airstay." Even as they watched, Mortensen held open a door at the top of the stairs, and Elijah passed through, followed by the Professor, who shut the door behind them. What was on the other side of that door? Sean wondered. He didn't dare to imagine. He just knew he had to get Elijah out of there as soon as possible.
"Let's go," he said, jumping to his feet.
Moving with studied casualness, Sean made his way toward the staircase with Cate following close behind, hoping that no one would notice them or try to interfere if they did. And then, just when he thought they'd made good their escape, as if at some unspoken signal, everyone stood up. Uh-oh, he thought. Were he and Cate busted? About to suffer death by empathy?
Then Sean was startled when a smiling middle-aged Asian woman reached out and took his hand just as Cate's hand was taken by an elderly Scandinavian man. In moments, a human chain had formed, with each person linked to those on either side. Utterly at sea, Sean concluded there was nothing for it but to go along with whatever was happening, and he took hold of Cate's free hand.
"What's this all about?" Cate muttered out of the corner of her mouth, sounding alarmed.
"No idea," Sean muttered back.
"Well, if it's some kind of group marriage ceremony, we're getting a divorce as soon as it's over," she said. "No offense, darling, but we'd drive each other mad within a month."
"Now we will sing," declared a young West Indian woman standing opposite Sean.
Not a group marriage ceremony then, but a sing-a-long. He hadn't done one of those since his long ago days at summer camp. The circle started swaying back and forth, the young woman hummed a note, and then she began to sing: "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try..." Immediately everyone joined in. "No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today...
Of course, Sean thought, what better anthem for Empathicalists than John Lennon's Imagine?
Sean tried to find the experience amusing or ridiculous, but he couldn't. Instead, he found it deeply moving, almost spiritual. He found himself remembering his idealistic youth, when he planned on becoming a photojournalist whose pictures would change the world. Elijah's pricks at his soft underbelly had first reminded him of those forgotten ideals. Now they were even more present, and he felt something like regret that he'd turned his back on them all those years ago.
Beside him, Cate was swaying up a storm, singing her heart out in a rich, beautiful alto. She was caught up in the emotion of the moment, too. Sean wondered what youthful ideals she was remembering - assuming she'd had them, of course. But she knew every word to the song. Amazing.
"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one..."
The song ended not with applause but a respectful silence, and at that moment, Sean felt an undeniable bond with every person in the room. Though he didn't know a single name save one, it was as if he knew them anyway, on some deeper level. He stole a glance at Cate, and she actually had tears her in eyes. Now that had to be a first.
When the circle broke up and people returned to their cushions and conversations, Cate sniffed and wiped her eyes and then said with a ferocious frown, "If you ever dare to breathe so much as a single word about this to anyone, Sean, I swear..."
"Don't worry," Sean said. "Your reputation as a cold, artificial fashionista totally lacking in sentiment is safe with me. Now come on, let's get upstairs." The urgency to find Elijah came back in a rush. He'd been alone with Mortensen for far too long.
No one paid the least attention as they made their way up the stairs. When they got to the top, they paused outside the closed door. Sean leaned in and listened.
"Only you can fulfill the intellectual potential that is so sorely lacking in my country," he heard Elijah say. That was better than what he'd feared Elijah might be saying, at any rate, Sean thought, grasping the doorknob.
"Well, here goes nothing," he said, and barged straight in without knocking, Cate hard on his heels. They were in what appeared to be Mortensen's study. "Ah, so there you are, Elijah," he said, affecting a breezy manner. 'Breezy' lasted all of two seconds, disappearing the instant his eyes fell on Mortensen ensconced on a squashy sofa in front of a crackling fire, and Elijah literally sitting at his idol's bare feet.
At the sight of Sean, Elijah scrambled up, looking not only startled but very displeased. "What are you doing here?" he demanded, setting his hands on his narrow hips. "And why on earth did you bring her?"
"I do have a name, you know," remarked Cate tartly.
"What do you think I'm doing here?" Sean shot back, the 'we are the world, we are the children' mood vanishing before the scorn in Elijah's eyes. "You're supposed to be at Ian's salon to model his collection." He glanced at his watch. "The show starts in less than an hour."
Mortensen got up more slowly. He appeared very puzzled indeed. "Elijah, what is going on?" he asked, looking from Sean to Cate and back again.
"Nothing," Elijah said dismissively. "These people are just about to leave, Professor. They have no business being here and I have no business with them."
"Oh you don't, do you?" Sean exclaimed, his blood pressure rising.
"No. I'm done with you lot. So go away." Elijah crossed his arms on his chest and glared.
Any hope Sean had of holding onto his temper vanished at 'you lot'. He strode around the sofa and got right up in Elijah's face. "It's about time you woke up to some of your responsibilities, Elijah," he said angrily. "You know that Ian can't show the collection without you. Regardless of what you feel about me, you can't do this to him and all the other people involved."
"Hundreds of people," interjected Cate.
"I'm no more interested in your people than you are in mine," Elijah said scornfully, turning his blue death glare on her.
After the real and honest connection Sean had felt with 'Elijah's people' downstairs only a short time ago, after his private admission that he'd been too dismissive of Empathicalism, after seeing actual tears in Cate Blanchett's eyes, Elijah couldn't possibly have said anything more ill-advised or inflammatory.
"Is that so? Well, your brand of empathy is a little one-sided for me, sweetheart," Sean said in disgust.
Elijah flinched. "Would you please leave now?" he said with icy dignity. "Professor Mortensen and I wish to be alone."
Oh, what was the point? Sean thought. It was hopeless. Let Elijah be alone with the sainted Professor Whatsisname and find out for himself what the man was really interested in. He was done, through. "Fine," he said, throwing up his hands. "I'm outta here." And he turned and stalked away.
"I assume you mean me, too," said Cate, and hurried after him.
Outside on the street, she said in exasperation, "Well, you sure fixed things, didn't you? Couldn't you have tried a little of thatimagine all the people living life in peace on Elijah instead of starting World War 3 in there?"
Sean was in no mood for humor. He yanked open the taxi door and said, "Tell Ian that I'm sorry. I'll make it up to him somehow, I promise."
"Where are you going?" Cate demanded.
"There's a plane leaving for New York at ten thirty, and I'm going to be on it." Sean huffed a bitter laugh. "I meant to cancel my reservation and stay in Paris with Elijah. What with one thing and another I never got around to it. Good thing, huh?" He climbed in and closed the door. "The Meurice, Rue de Rivoli," he said, "and step on it."
The taxi pulled away, leaving Cate spluttering on the sidewalk.