Film and motion pictures

“Damage” and Obsession

Louis Malle’s film “Damage” is a dark and magnetic meditation on love and obsession. How desire leaves us powerless. How love can destroy. The following video is the final scene.

“It takes a remarkably short time to withdraw from the world. I travelled until I arrived at a life of my own. What really makes us is beyond grasping. It is way beyond knowing. We give in to love because it gives us some sense of what is unknowable. Nothing else matters. Not at the end.

I saw her once more only. I saw her by accident at an airport changing planes. She didn’t see me. She was with Peter. She was holding a child. She was no different from anyone else.”

When I first saw this film I thought about it for days. I went and got the book it was based on (Damage by Josephine Hart) and read it in one marathon session. Propped up on my bed, unwilling to detach. Like the film, the dialogue is spare and not frivolous. No word is wasted. This focuses the emotional force of each expression. Ideas and feelings are suggested in the spaces between lines and between moments.

In the film, the characters convey a complex melange of feeling with each look they share. By observing the characters on screen we get some sense of the emotional intensity between them. At turns stricken or overcome. Restrained or unbound. And in our turn it resonates with the force of our own bodily memory. As people who have felt something powerful and intoxicating.

Love is not a trifling thing. It creates and destroys. In the words of Kierkegaard, “Love is all, it gives all, and it takes all.” Very few films seem equipped to show us the dual aspects of love. To love means ceding control of your life to something other than yourself.

The last few lines of the final scene are ambiguous. And this ambiguity is what leaves you thinking.

“I saw her once more only. I saw her by accident at an airport changing planes. She didn’t see me. She was with Peter. She was holding a child. She was no different from anyone else.”

She was no different than anyone else. That is a compelling statement. There are multiple interpretations for what he means. While under its spell does the object of love take on significance that is unrelated to reality? Do we somehow transform our own reality through desire so that individuals become intensely meaningful to us in a way that is beyond reason? What separates the man or woman we desire from any other in the world? Perhaps only the focus of our desire. Once desire has withered or become focused elsewhere we see them as what they were the whole time: another person. But, desire transforms a mere person into an object of religious devotion.

Another way to interpret that line is as a realization of the momentary nature of desire. Romantic love breaks out like a wildfire and enraptures each person. But, if the passion between two people is destroyed, no trace remains other than the memory of feeling. What do we find when we discover that things we once felt are no longer true? How do we reconcile the intensity of the dead past with the deadness of the living present?

Related notes on life and death

I’m looking forward to seeing “No country for old men“. Tried to see it last night, but there was a fire alarm at the theatre and they made everyone leave, which, as you can imagine, was very frustrating. As someone who loves both the novel “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy and most films by the Coen brothers, I am looking forward to seeing this adaption of Cormac McCarthy’s book by the same name. Friday evening I read an interview with McCarthy where he threw down a few nuggets:

  1. “McCarthy’s style owes much to Faulkner’s — in its recondite vocabulary, punctuation, portentous rhetoric, use of dialect and concrete sense of the world — a debt McCarthy doesn’t dispute. “The ugly fact is books are made out of books,” he says. “The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written.” His list of those whom he calls the “good writers” — Melville, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner — precludes anyone who doesn’t “deal with issues of life and death.” Proust and Henry James don’t make the cut. “I don’t understand them,” he says. “To me, that’s not literature. A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange.”
  2. “There’s no such thing as life without bloodshed,” McCarthy says philosophically. “I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.”
  3. “Having saved enough money to leave El Paso, McCarthy may take off again soon, probably for several years in Spain. His son, with whom he has lately re-established a strong bond, is to be married there this year. “Three moves is as good as a fire,” he says in praise of homelessness.”

Five word movie reviews

I’ve watched a few movies since the weekend. I went on a rental spree at Blockbuster since the Netflix process requires too much of my patience, and these are a few things I’ve seen since then.

Four Brothers – These four guys can’t act.

Wedding Crashers – Owen and Vince are old.

Thumbsucker – Good movie. Great ensemble cast.


Jody and I went out for dinner and a movie last night after work. We stopped off at Campisi’s Egyptian, a good Italian restaurant here in Dallas with good food and great atmosphere. I just read on their website that Jack Ruby ate dinner at Campisi’s the night before he shot Lee Harvey Oswald. Campisi’s is the kind of place where you see nicely dressed old couples who look like they have been coming back for a while. My favorite feature: coatrack attached to every booth. I had spaghetti and meatballs, although in this case it was meatball. The plate came piled with a ball of spaghetti and the marinara sauce was sweet and fresh. I almost had to use the garlic toast to cancel out the sweetness.

After dinner, we crossed Mockingbird Lane to stop over at the Angelika to see Caché, a French film about a couple who are being secretly filmed and provoked with these mysterious recordings. It’s a movie where you have to pay close attention. Unlike what we’re accustomed to from Hollywood, it doesn’t pre-digest the ideas or plot for you. You really have to observe and think about it. After the movie, in fact, this older gentleman kept asking people as they were leaving if they “got it” in the hopes that they would give him “the answer”. I’m glad he didn’t ask me because it seems almost a violation to ruin that sense of mystery with an inarticulation of your own sense of meaning, even though I’m sure he could have come up with his own interpretation had he just thought about what he had seen. That’s not to say that the film tries to be incomprehensible because it doesn’t, however it’s very much an examplar of the “show don’t tell” school of film-making. It is worth seeing.

Ben Affleck should play Scott Peterson

…in a made for tv movie.

La Strada

La Strada - Criterion CollectionI got a chance to watch La Strada this weekend. It’s a sad, beautiful film. I’m not even sure how I would describe it, not that it’s indescribable just that I don’t think I could convey anything about it sufficiently except in my typical all-thumbs narrative style. I now want to watch every other Fellini film since this was my first, I am ashamed to say.

Lord. I have to wake up in a few hours to give a short speech at Toastmasters. I am completely unprepared so it should be either a train wreck or a miracle. I did finally decide on a topic on the drive back from Dallas, which I will attempt to talk about without notes or preparation of any type. I’m thinking something to do with all the bad advertising I have seen lately like the billboard for Amdecon (“We clean up suicides, so you don’t have to.”) I spotted on the way into Dallas. Is that really the best use of your marketing budget?

Overly simplistic movie review: “Capote”


Great movie. Is really less about Capote and more about the events surrounding the writing of In Cold Blood, the true account of the brutal murder of a rural Kansas family. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal is top notch and the film itself is beautiful and often funny. I left feeling heavy with thought and emotional stillness, which to me is the sign that I have seen something worth seeing. This feeling persisted. Highly recommended.

A Couple Thoughts: “A History of Violence”

A History of Violence:

Saw David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” a few hours ago. It was a work of brevity. Almost nothing included that did not add to the central themes of the story. That was nice for a change.

**Spoilers ahead**

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Down with movie reviews!

The woman and I watched Closer last night. I never went to see it in the theatre since the reviews at the time were lackluster, but that’s what I get for listening to someone else’s worthless opinion. It’s got great characters, great and memorable dialogue, and Natalie Portman spends one scene nearly buck naked.

What I liked about “Closer” is that it reminded me of all the sh*t and pain that’s mixed up in love. The entire movie is break-up / infidelity / love / loss / revenge concentrate. It’s every bad relationship experience you’ve had condensed into two hours. It’s real. But, it’s not all negative, just realistic and maybe cynical. It’s not just about relationships, it’s also about how people can be dishonest and screwed up because they’re self-loathing cowards. It’s a cycle: you seek someone to love because you have a hungry hole in your chest, you get involved with someone else because the hole is never really filled, then you betray your first lover and whip yourself with the resulting guilt so that everything falls down around you and you can be even more unhappy and pathetic. It takes work to be happy, dammit. I really believe that.

Like I said, there are some fantastic lines. Clive Owen is the star of this film, without a doubt, but everyone else is really good, too.

Some of my favorite lines:

Dan (Jude Law): You’re an animal.
Larry (Clive Owen): Yeah? What are you?
Dan (Jude Law): You think love is simple. You think the heart is like a diagram.
Larry (Clive Owen): Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist, wrapped in blood!

Anna (Julia Roberts): Why is the sex so important?
Larry (Clive Owen): BECAUSE I’M A CAVEMAN!

“The Return” and fatherhood

I watched a great movie this weekend, Vozvrashchenie (The Return). I was doing my regular tour around Blockbuster trading out rentals and I just picked it up. I think everyone should watch it because it works on you. You’ll carry it with you for days after. It deals with subjects everyone has some experience with: having a father and being a father. There is at least one important female role, but most of the story revolves around two brothers and their estranged father who shows up out of nowhere to take them on a journey. The journey with this father they’ve never known is an initiation into manhood squeezed into 7 days. The sons are faced with harsh lessons and each reacts differently to the experience.

The older I get the more I think about what type of father I will be. I also find myself looking back at what I learned from my father and the role he played in helping to shape my character and personality. I don’t know how much was intentional, but there were often lessons woven into the things my dad did with my brother and me. Like how he would send us to help our elderly neighbors, or how we always had to help him work on projects for our grandmother like building a deck or cutting the grass. Family was always important, so was being a good neighbor. I still try to remember all those things.