The Light We Steal

David Raboy, the director of the new psychological thriller The Giant, on a moment in production that came to define the film for him.

At the time, I didn’t know why I walked away. Scene T63, Take 1. The penultimate shooting night of my debut feature, The Giant, a labor of close to a decade. Eight years earlier, when I first wrote the title of this film, it was a dream – amorphous and shifting like a distant figure at dusk – and now, only hours from its end, I called “Action!” and walked outside, ushered by a wave of unease, lit a cigarette and listened to the country night song, and the echoes of the voices inside, the muffled reverberations of the only thing I ever truly wanted.

Maybe it was something about the sentimental pop-country song playing over a Bluetooth speaker, or the mist rising off the street in the wake of nighttime rain. Or maybe it was something about the sight of my best friends, old and new, gathered in a hazy room, having given everything to the film over the preceding five weeks and now so close to the finish line.

If I could’ve bottled it up, I would’ve drunk it for the rest of my life. But I couldn’t. Can’t. Even as I realize that it is my life’s endeavor.

When The Giant was in its infancy, it was inspired mostly by the shock that attended the murders of two young women with whom I attended high school (not, it’s important for me to note, the facts of those tragic cases). I had French class with one of them. We paired up on a class project once, an unwieldy skit in an unwieldy language that only made us laugh harder. Less than six months later, her remains were found in a ravine 80 miles from where she was last seen. Two years after that, another girl from my high school was found in broad daylight beside a major thoroughfare, the victim of an act of enormous brutality, all the more horrific for its randomness and the six years that would pass before its solving. I’ll never forget the moment I found out who did it and why – it is the moment I gave up on the conceit of closure, the folly of “why.”

In the schism between the lives we want, and the realities we fear, The Giant was written, but I would go on to see that void in so many other facets of my life – in the eyes of friends and family blindsided by mental illness, their very countenances changed, dislodged, their laughs in disharmony with the ones that so warmed me in our youth. Sometimes, in life, it just happens: a switch is flicked and a person is changed forever.

What are the images that could have preserved them as they were? What, beyond the cheap nostalgia of summer soundtracks, could re-open doors to possibility long since closed by trauma? What, beyond yearbook photos, could bring those young women back to life?

How do we hold on despite the surety that any moment, no matter how sweet, will slip through our fingers, that present light only beckons future darkness?

As anyone who has tried to capture in a photo the splendor of an August sunset can attest, we endeavor to steal away the light of the past to the custody of the future, but something is always lost. The greatest beauty is not its image, its wavelengths, its reflections. Beyond our perception, color does not exist. A sunset is its moment, within us as much as without, no matter how stunning, how painful its richness, how deep our ache to forestall the certainty of its finitude.

Perhaps I walked out on my own set that night in the hope that it was my own witnessing which shepherded time – that if I never came back inside, the moment would never end; that in that purgatory, the film could stay in the void in which it began, between beauty and fear.

Because in that moment, the film was everything I wanted it to be. Because I didn’t want to have to choose.

But I walked back inside, and called “Cut.”

If I could’ve bottled those good times, I would’ve drunk it for the rest of my life – and Lord knows, I tried. But I realize now, in that doomed pursuit, I may have bottled something else.

Because after all this time, I do see, in The Giant, proof that some of the light we steal does remain, even as I am startled to realize what I really sought to capture – that inexorable, massive thing that consumes the rest.

Writer-director David Raboy was born in Washington, D.C. in 1989 and raised in Northern Virginia. His first feature film, The Giant, premiered at the Toronto and San Sebastian film festivals. He lives in New York City.