On Empathy

Stories, May 23


Scene from “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”

Scene 1 / 21:15

      An anxious woman dressed in a red-and-white striped jacket enters a cab..

    “Follow that cab,” she demands.

    “I thought this only happened in the movies,” the taxi driver replied. His look is as eccentric as the interior of his car. The bold colors, mambo sounds, animal print covering every surface; it gave off an atmosphere of a flea market.

    This woman and the way she is dressed seems perfect for this kind of taxi scene. And it also seems as though the cab driver, even the cab itself, are perfect for her as she starts to relax and ease into the back of the seat. She’s fascinated by this wild and happy surrounding. Here, in the cab, you can find everything and anything you could ever need. Magazines, newspapers, smokes, liquor, markers, small fans, pills, toothbrushes, soda, plastic cups, you name it.  “Help yourself. It’s on the house,” the driver said when he notices her surprise. She simply repeated her demand of following the cab in front of them. 
    “Don’t worry, it’s under control.”

    This is the first of three scenes with the woman and the taxi driver in the movie Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown by Pedro Almodovar. The character of the driver appears only when the woman is in need of help. He is a one-dimensional character whose only role is to play a nice person, the face of compassion who cares enough about the main character’s potential needs. This is not your typical driver who only talks about mundane topics like the weather. As someone who shows sympathy towards the emotions and wishes of other strangers, he depicts a culture of empathy.  


        We can also notice this sensibility in the next scene:

Scene 2 / 45:50

      “I’m glad to see you,” the driver says with a smile. She is, once again, in his cab. But this time she is dressed in a more corporate outfit: a blue coat and white shirt with polka dots. This time the woman is crying. And instead of Mambo music, we hear a melancholic ballad. The cab becomes the saddest place to be. The driver can’t stand watching this woman cry, so his eyes turn red and he also sheds a tear. He wishes that things were different, but they’re not. There is as sadness in this world as much there are happy mambo beats.

    “Do you have eye drops?” the woman weeps.

    “No. Sorry… Why didn’t I think of eye drops?” He gets sadder. His cab has everything except the only thing that the woman needs: eye drops. Deeply touched by her honest emotions, he joins her in the suffering. Like a true empath, his presence is not only physical but emotional. The identification with the other person is shown both in happiness and in sadness.

Scene 3 / 1:16:14

    “You again! Great!”

    “We are meant for each other!” the driver said, happy to see her again.

    And this time he has eye drops ready to give to the same woman, who is now in a bold blood-colored suit, complete with burgundy nail polish that screams nothing but “Revenge!” She has never been this ready and determined in her life. Never like she is in this very moment, following the bike ridden by her enemy dressed in pink and the compassionate driver here to help her.

    A taxi driver can often represent an isolated figure; faceless and emotionless. He can stay reserved after hours of reflecting on the city, which can be just as beautiful as it can be toxic. The communication can be meaningless with the person behind him even though his/her energy flows in the car, the driver’s second home. Seldom are there sacred moments with someone he can share a few lines about his day or his life with. But more often, the driver is a lonely character. Subordinate to the chaos of the streets, we are never really made aware of the driver’s presence.

    We often find ourselves in a role of a taxi driver. Different people are entering in our lives and take or leave whatever they need before leaving. The character of the driver from Almodovar movie is an emphasis of the forgotten empathy in the selfish, shameless, and fast-paced city.  He teach us that we should make our decisions based on care and understanding.

    “Do you mind the Mambo?

    I’ve got everything. Heavy metal, rock, soul, salsa, techno-pop… whatever you like.

   “You really like Mambo?”

    “I love Mambo.”

   “Yes… The Mambo goes best with this decor.”


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© 2018 The Stories: Revisited