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  • Writer's pictureM. Laszlo

On the Threshold: How a Visionary Novel Healed a Personal Wound

So much of the inspiration for my work, On the Threshold, comes from the notorious Amityville murders of 1974. Chances are that many children growing up in the 1970’s found the murders to be disturbing and unforgettable.

            When the tragic Defeo family moved into their famous house, it is my understanding that the father named their home “High Hopes” and set up a friendly sign stenciled with those very words. What many fail to grasp is that the song from which the name derives is not so much a song of hope as it is a song of futility. Specifically, the song tells of a determined ant trying to move a rubber-tree plant—something plainly impossible. My profoundly-personal feeling is that the father unconsciously knew that it was futile for him to think that he could remedy his son’s antisocial tendencies by moving the family to a beautiful house in Amityville. This might also help to explain why the father chose to paint the house a somber black. One other note: the father had the “High Hopes” sign written in a Gothic, Germanic-looking script. Could it be that he had already noticed the fact that his antisocial son loved loud, violent WWII movies? More to the point, the father must have at least unconsciously noticed that when his son watched those loud, violent movies, he did not identify with John Wayne and the Americans. Rather, the son rooted for the Nazis.

            At any rate, so much of my work deals with the workings of the unconscious mind and the wisdom and knowledge stored there. That thematic topic runs throughout the text and is augmented by the fact that one of the protagonists just happens to be a film critic who employs phenomenological film theory as a means of understanding the workings of the unconscious mind. The novel had to include such a character, though—and looking back at the Amityville murders, it is no mystery why.

            Before Butch Defeo committed the murders, he watched a movie on the late show: Castle Keep, a WW-II picture starring Burt Lancaster. Could it be that the movie appealed to something in the murderer’s drug-addled unconscious mind? The movie tells of Hitler’s army storming a Belgian castle. Plainly, the murderer identified with those German soldiers tasked with the violent conquest. And if that’s true, the murderer’s unconscious mind could very well have equated his father with those holding authority over the castle—both the Belgian count and his friend, the American officer portrayed by Burt Lancaster. In short, as the murderer watched the movie that fateful night, he came to equate the castle, the setting for the movie, with the family house there in Amityville.

            Let’s remember, too, that as the murderer watched the movie, he watched it at full volume. He did this because he enjoyed the violent sounds of war. This is important because the cacophony must have weighed upon the family’s collective unconsciousness as they slept and heard the terrible clamor. By the time, the murderer burst into their rooms and demanded that they roll over onto their bellies, the family was already in a state of something like shellshock. As for why the murderer would demand that the family members roll onto their bellies, this, too, is no mystery at all: the murderer made such demands only because he could not bear to look upon their faces and to risk eye contact in that moment he pulled the trigger.

            One other point that is important to understand: following the commission of the horrible crime, the murderer took it upon himself to trim his beard in a distinctive way—and in a way that he had never worn it either before or since. The question is why. Here’s the answer: in trimming his beard in the way that he did, he made it look something like the way the Belgian count wore his beard in the movie. In a sense, when the murderer trimmed his beard, he was telling himself that he had conquered the castle and that he was in charge now and that he would be the count from this moment forward. Again, though, the point is that the murderer unconsciously saw his own experience in the movie. His conscious mind saw a WW-II picture that fateful night, but his unconscious mind detected the archetypes that spoke to his own condition.

These aforementioned themes abound all throughout my work. Without a doubt, the WW-II film, Castle Keep, predetermined the decision to set my tale in a castle. (In the interest of full disclosure, I named my castle after the building where the English Department meets at my alma mater, Hiram College.)

Most important of all, the idea of phenomenological film theory has always informed my thoughts on the unconscious mind. Ultimately, film theory ignited my obsession with Plato and his idea of inborn knowledge. Deep down inside, I’ve always know that the resolution to the riddle of the universe exists within us and has always been there.

M. Laszlo lives in Bath Township, Ohio. He is an aging recluse, rarely seen nor heard. On the Threshold is his second release and first with Tahlia Newland’s Awesome Independent Authors.

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