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Austin is a screenwriter with a wife and children, and Lee’s younger brother. It’s established that he’s college educated, owns a home and is beginning to make a name for himself in the entertainment industry. Austin is watching after their mother’s Southern California home while she is on an Alaskan cruise when Lee shows up after visiting their alcoholic father in the desert. Though Austin appears to have a good life, we see that he has a yearning to be free in the way Lee is in his life, and wants to prove that he can survive in the same way his brother has in the desert.
Lee is Austin’s older brother, a drifter who didn’t go to college and has very few possessions in life. He’s spent time living in the desert, and has just come from visiting his father when he arrives to find Austin watching over their mother’s home. He’s a drinker like his dad, and has a violent streak to match his attitude of doing what he wants whenever he wants to do it. Lee, in a way looks up to Austin, at what he’s done in his life, and see that writing this screenplay could bring for him a different kind of life. And, that gives him hope, possibly the kind that he's never had in his life before.
Saul Kimmer is a Hollywood producer that Austin has invited to his mother’s home in order to negotiate a deal for a screenplay he is writing. Initially he tells Austin that he the screenplay he’s writing has something, but after a round of golf with Lee, Saul enlists Austin to write Lee’s story, saying that Austin’s is now dead. Saul is the catalyst that leads to greater conflict between the two brothers, as Austin begins to come unglued towards Lee once Saul kills his work in favor of his big brother’s pitch.
Saul represents the theme of commerce and art, and the constant clashing that occurs, one moment it builds you up, and the next it rips your soul out.
Mom is only on stage for a short period of time, but her presence helps us understand Austin and Lee more deeply. With her house destroyed, she doesn’t even raise her voice, she simply decides she will check herself into a hotel. Along with the absent father, and a mom who clearly is absent in her own way (she goes to the museum to meet Picasso), we see the kind of destruction that can come from two “children” being left alone to fend for themselves. In the case of True West Austin and Lee fend for their identity and place within the structure (however broken) of their family.
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