The Moviegoing Scene

His refuge from IBM is the cinema. In a film called L’Eclisse a woman wanders through the streets of a sunstruck, deserted city…. The woman is Monica Vitti. With her perfect legs and sensual lips and abstracted look, Monica Vitti haunts him; he falls in love with her. He has dreams in which he, of all men in the world is singled out to be her comfort and solace…J. M. Coetzee Youth

The weekend approaches. The time when I normally head out to see a film. But increasingly I am finding it impossible to bring myself to see anything playing in one of the local movie houses. Those that I do see are the exceptions and nothing like the old days when there were so many films around, I often missed a few because I couldn’t spend all day, every day, inside a movie house.

The days when you went to see every film from France and Italy are long gone. Where oh where is Ingmar Bergman these days? I conclude the Summer Doldrums have become a permanent, year-round fixture. It is not unusual for me to walk out of a film well before it is over.

A while ago things had become so bleak I decided to see Shall We Dance? a remake of the quite wonderful Japanese film of the same name. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Everyone enjoyed it. When it was over, the audience burst into applause. Such a light film. Fun yes. But applause?

I was reminded of a Sunday matinee when a young woman came down before the audience and asked for everyone's attention. She announced to the perplexed assembly that it was her mother's birthday, indeed, a very special one, and asked everyone to join in singing happy birthday to her. Without a moment's delay, everyone belted out a lusty Happy Birthday to Sandy followed by wild applause from the smiling moviegoers.

After Shall We Dance? was over, I began musing over a scene where a middle-aged woman meets the detective she has hired to snoop on her husband who she suspects is having an affair with his dancing instructor. They meet in a bar. She wants him to end the investigation. The detective wants to flirt with her. He asks her why do so many people get married? She replies at once by saying it is to bear witness to your life.

I was puzzled by her comment. How odd I thought. I recalled a remark made by one of the characters in Rachel Cusk’s novel The Lucky Ones that I happened to be reading then: “I felt a terrible despair at having failed to find another human being to corroborate my existence.”

I didn’t think that was why most people married or the reason they would give if you asked them why they did. That is not why I married my wife or why she married him as far as I know. It had nothing to do with confirming our existence. Yes, it was sometimes pleasing to tell her about my day, how I felt, and the ideas I had and equally pleasing to hear about hers. Sometimes it was even instructive. But our marriage was not dependent on our bearing witness to these accounts.

And so this is how it goes from one weekend to the next, as I ponder the meaning of the films I can mange to see in the local movie houses or the old ones I watch once again on a DVD. They engage me as much as the books I read or the theatrical performances I attend. They puzzle me, move me, sometimes clarify matters, but more often they confuse me even further, especially over questions of moral thought and action. These I never stop wrestling with. Progress is slow.