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Ottessa Moshfegh’s 3 Favorite Wanderers and Weirdos

From Marty McFly to a certain "Indiana Jones" knight, the author highlights her favorite film misfits who are of a different time or reality and tells us why they transfix her imagination.

Ottessa Moshfegh is a frequent contributor to the literary magazine The Paris Review. And her novel “Eileen” was shortlisted for the twenty-sixteen Man Booker prize. Her latest work is a collection of stories about characters on the fringes of society — it’s called “Homesick for Another World.”

Here she is with a list of characters who are homesick for another time.


Ottessa Moshfegh: I’m Ottessa Moshfegh, and I’ve written a book called “Homesick for Another World,” which is a collection of short stories, and a lot of my characters don’t feel at home in the reality that they were born into. They’re always weirdos, and they always end up finding themselves in weird worlds. But I’m attracted to characters that actually do travel to other dimensions. And I’m a huge fan of movies. So, here are three characters from movies that take us through time and space to a different world.

Marty McFly – “Back to the Future”

Number one: Marty McFly in “Back to the Future,” “Back to the Future I” and II. Forget III. First of all, he’s adorable, and he seems sort of mature beyond his years. He comes from a troubled home, and yet, he’s totally cool and dorky at the same time. And his best friend is this totally weird scientist. And you wonder, “Why are they friends? What do they have in common?”

I mean, it’s a really huge story, and it’s dealing with these really abstract concepts: space, time, existence. I think you needed a really lighthearted character to guide you through all these heavy movements. And Marty McFly carries it all with this sort of levity and humor, and somehow he’s a hero even though he’s just this little twerp.

I think levity is really essential. I mean, every book that I love is a book that can make me laugh, and what I’ve tried to do in my collection is to poke fun at my own self-seriousness and the drama of being an emotional being.

Dorothy Gale – “The Wizard of Oz”

Another character I was thinking of, the second one, would be Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.” And a lot like Marty McFly, she’s leading us on an adventure into another totally foreign landscape, but a landscape that seems to be, maybe, a projection of her own subconscious.

There’s something heartbreaking about Dorothy. We know that she’s lost, and these silly characters that she’s meeting on the road are just aspects of, maybe, herself or what she needs. You know, she needs intelligence and courage, and she needs not to be alone.

The characters are sort of distorted dream versions of her real-life cast of characters. And I can relate. I used to write with a mirror set up behind my computer, and I would look up from the mirror, and I’d be making a face that I didn’t recognize, like the face of this character in whatever scene I’d just been writing.

The Grail Knight – “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

And number three is a little bit weird, and it’s the knight guarding the Holy Grail at the very end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

He’s been in the temple for centuries. Meanwhile, he’s just been sitting there in his chain mail armor, completely alone with all these cups. One of these cups is the actual Holy Grail that Jesus had drank out of, and if you drink out of it, you’ll be granted everlasting life. And if you drink from the wrong cup — if you choose any other cup — you will die a terrible death instantly.

This knight, he is almost like a guru from outer space. He just completely disrupts the fabric of the reality of the story, in a way that, like, I think was so daring and bizarre.

The characters I like are characters that don’t really fit in the world that we meet them at. When I am writing characters and stories, I am kind of mining my subconscious for the lurking weirdos that are parts of me that I don’t otherwise know how to bring into the light.