Like A Movie (Essay)
Grace and I saw The Flick last weekend at the Barrow Street Theater and already I miss Avery’s upspeak coming out from under his glasses. I miss Sam clicking his tongue, his lack of self-awareness in eating and in laughter, and his eyes figuring out where to look whenever faced with the emergency of embracing his loserly fate. I miss Rose’s hands in pockets and her under-bite, like she’s expecting something of you but unsure, herself, of what. I think I’ll see it again. I think I’ll go once a week. I think it’ll be my Cheers. I haven’t felt this way about a work of fiction in a long time; that “suspension of disbelief” is an irrelevant term when we so clearly live among our favorite stories in a Brecht Evens painting of vitreous, overlapping worlds. The Flick restored my faith, reminding me that the closest thing I have to religion or the sense that someone, somewhere is watching over me is the assurance that everything I could possibly feel has been articulated by someone who I guess is just a mouthpiece for a screenwriter. My idols are a cast of characters; this feeling is evidence of a higher power. “For if a man should dream of heaven and, waking, find in his hand a flower as a token that he had really been there, what then? What then?”(1)
Movie theater seats face the audience from onstage. Between each scene, the music swells, and light from a projector beams onto us. It demonstrates the varying levels of projection at play in all kinds of fandom instead of touting some kind of Almost Famous, blanket statement-y, “‘Cuz at the end of the day? We’re all…just…here…for the music. Rock on!!” Annie Baker’s characters often mistake snobbery for fandom and fandom for love. Avery talks about a dream he had where the test to get into heaven is if you’ve truly loved a movie, and they’re going through all his DVDs and VHSs and reels with an ISBN scanner, and he’s expecting it to beep on any number of them—Yazuka, Truffaut, Pierrot le Fou and Barry Lyndon—when it finally goes off on Honeymoon in Vegas.
“It’s like this terrible movie with Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker from like 1989. I was obsessed with it when I was like four. I watched it at my cousin’s birthday party. It’s like a really really bad movie.
And at first I’m like, What? My entire life can be represented by Honeymoon in Vegas? Honeymoon in Vegas is like the one movie I truly, truly loved? But then, I’m like, wait, it doesn’t matter, I’m going to heaven. I must have done something right in my life because I’m going to heaven.
And that feeling of like…of like knowing that I made the right choices, was like the best feeling I’ve ever had.”(2)
Avery may love Honeymoon in Vegas more earnestly than any of the Criterion Collection, and it may be that loving anything completely earnestly and not as a reflection of oneself is very, very hard, especially if there’s a pedestal like the Criterion Collection—or being older and handsome, a rumored sociopath and nymphomaniac and non-believer in love—to put it on. Rose says that when she masturbates to her own fantasies of other people, she sees only herself (“The Young-Girl doesn’t love; she loves herself loving.”(3)). Avery shuts down when Rose gives him a hand job and admits later that whenever he starts having sex, all he can think is that he’d rather be watching a movie (“There’s just a lot of TV I want to watch, and I prefer to watch it alone.”(4)). And then there’s this exchange after Sam, in a theater seat, facing the audience, tells Rose that he loves her.
ROSE: But is this the kind of thing where you want the person to love you back or you actually secretly don’t want them to love you back?
SAM: That’s a good question.
ROSE: Because it sort of seems like it has nothing to do with me.
Like me me.
Pause. Sam’s heart breaks.
SAM: That’s not how I wanted it to seem.
That’s not how I wanted it to be.
Rose sighs a long, sad sigh.
Like, even right now. It’s like you’re performing or something.
SAM: I’m not performing.
SAM: I’m not performing.
ROSE: So turn around and look at me.
SAM: (Tears starting to brim in his eyes) Do you like me back?
ROSE: Oh my god.
ROSE: Would you please just turn around?
Sam shakes his head no.
He shakes his head no again.
ROSE: You’re seriously not going to turn around and look at me?
He does not turn around.
ROSE: You don’t know me. (5)
There was that night a week after the breakup when I was “splitting,” where you talk so much shit about your ex that you begin to feel disconnected from yourself, since who you are is not really someone who hates that person. I had to retrace every memory that had gotten me from high school, to New York, to this relationship, to its end; they all seemed to have been experienced by other people in scenes I was only witnessing as audience or director or the screenwriter begrudgingly allowed on set. What does it even mean to use that dreamy cliché, that a real-life event “felt like a movie”? Does it mean that you were the camera, watching from the outside of it all, unnoticed by the people actually at the center of the experience? Were you the protagonist, but you also had a third-person view of the whole setting, floating up out of your body and watching yourself, perhaps too self-conscious to really take in your fellow actor? If you’re saying it felt more like a movie set, like you were just existing in the world of a movie but no cameras were capturing it, why wouldn’t you just say, “It felt like being in New York,” “It felt like being in high school,” or any of the other things that were real things, amazing things, before movies claimed to make them more special?
Richard Maxwell writes, “There is no reason to emulate other acting. Behavior on stage isn’t legitimate simply because it is consistent with what has preceded it. Being identifiable isn’t necessarily ‘real.'”(6) Sometimes I lose faith in my religion and in these one-way relationships to figments of someone else’s imagination. Living in the Brecht Evens painting can delude one into believing that because some real life event resembles a love scene, it’s love. Like it’s simply a matter of checking a box, and staying inside of it.
Dysphoric, destabilized, and high, I kicked everyone out and begged him to come over, determined to find out if the love was real. There was him holding me, telling me I’d just smoked too much weed, saying I’d be okay. There was crying to sleeping, then waking up slowly to pitiful sex. There was an appointment to look at a new apartment, but I dragged him back down to the bed and threw my head in his lap. He exasperatedly confirmed that I am cute and smart and sexy and funny, but I couldn’t let up and I contorted myself all the way around till my face was in the pillow and said, for the first time, my voice muffled: “I love you.”
He said it back, no “too.”
He said he had to go.
He walked out, silhouetted against the yellow coming in from my hallway. This is where I froze him, and where he’d always been: a cameo necklace, framed by a cinemascope.
- Renata Adler, Speedboat (Harper Perennial, 1976), 72.
- Annie Baker, The Flick (Samuel French, 2014), 65.
- Tiqqun, Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young Girl (Semiotext(e), 2012), 57.
- Me turning down a boy sophomore year of high school.
- Baker, 124-125.
- Richard Maxwell, Theater For Beginners (TCG, 2015), 81.