Empathy for Jim Morrison

January 29, 2024
I went into When You’re Strange with a few naïve and stupid prejudices; for example, I liked The Doors’ music, but Morrison being so excessive kind of bugged me. I thought, “Did he really have to destroy himself to make music?” And that mentality kept me at a distance from him for quite a while.
The key moment came for me when I had dinner with Jim’s sister, Anne. We were talking about the family and what it was like living with their father, the Admiral, and I said, “So, where do you think Jim’s drinking came from?” At that point, one of Anne’s sons just erupted at me. He said, “Jim was an alcoholic! An alcoholic doesn’t choose to be an alcoholic; it’s a disease!”
I realized he was right, and that prompted me to see Morrison in a completely different light. Jim wasn’t just getting drunk for the thrill of it. He was clinically an alcoholic, and it’s true; it is a disease. Then you have his conflict with his father and the man’s relentless refusal to connect emotionally with his son. You put those two factors together, and suddenly, you’ve got a fascinating character. It’s not that you have to forgive or condone him, but you can understand him, and your heart goes out to him because you see what a struggle it was for him. Throughout my films, the characters all struggle with something similar. It made Jim human for me, as human as Johnny Suede or Les Galantine.
This shift in perspective gave me a lot more empathy for Jim. Honestly, I never saw the film as a “documentary.” It was always like a narrative film to me. As such, I came to realize Jim was my main character, my hero, actually. So, I needed to be able to see him as clearly as possible. More importantly, I needed not to judge him in any way. I think he was a severely tormented soul, and the demons he was fighting were incredibly powerful.
The film doesn’t romanticize him, nor does it criticize him. It doesn’t condemn him, or shy away from showing the destructive parts—how that behaviour affected the band, and how it literally led to everything falling apart. This enabled me to bring a more emotional narrative approach to the film.

Learn more about When You're Strange here.


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Independent Filmmaker & Musician