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“For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”
–Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Woodsman is not an easy movie to watch. Its main character, Walter, played by Kevin Bacon, tries to adjust and assimilate back into society after twelve years in prison. That Walter has a dark secret – he’s a child molester – along with urges he continually fights to control, make him a rather unsympathetic character as his inner turmoil often results in a curt and abrasive outward persona towards others. Yet, in the midst of all we can’t help but let the film’s dramatic question, will Walter succumb to his desires once again, draw us in despite a host of his undesirable traits causing a level of discomfort with the viewer.
In a previous article, Empathy: your story’s best friend and matchmaker for your audience, I noted some of the ways in which to build empathy for a character that may otherwise seem unrelatable – some of which are present in The Woodsman in an effort to understand what Walter is up against in his quest for redemption:
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