Saturday, February 04, 2006

45. Don't look now--or now, or now. Or now.

When I see a horror film these days, I have to resist the selective amnesia and self-protective displacement that makes me think I ever really enjoyed watching them. As I've written elsewhere, the trauma outweighed the pleasure; as a little kid this was "entertainment" only in the Sadean sense, as I rubbed my own nose in my primal fears. I can recall even later, as a high schooler, "watching" The Exorcist, I focused mostly on the lower-right-hand corner of the screen, the only bit of the frame that was not piled high with a steaming helping of doom. This was 1973; was I really that terrified at sixteen?

The conditioning was deep and self-imposed. As a little kid I kept going to see them, and looking away, sometimes even retreating to the lobby, where the theater at the Cherry Hill Mall had an aquarium; I'd meander out there, false insouciance fooling nobody.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose, now; I'm more than all grown up, so there's no excuse for such foolishness--and I needed none, once again feeling the loss of terror at the movies, mourning it masochistically. A pretty good movie, photographed a bit muddily, with some unnecessarily herky-jerky editing--the bane of post-Millenial horror films--but structured well. I watched it from a cool remove.

I left it up to my teenaged daughter to handle all the heavy lifting. Unwilling to retreat to her back bedroom, she convinced her older sister to sleep with her in the living room. And she wouldn't go into the basement by herself to do her laundry, or outside at night to the driveway to fetch something from the car. The sins of the fathers ...

The following evening, I went downstairs to do some laundry myself. A cinderblock wall divides our basement in two, with an open doorway standing directly behind anyone loading and unloading the clothes. As the water poured and the bubbles rose, I resisted the urge to look over my shoulder at the shadowed opening; with some sad relief, I realized I still knew, as our good but scary friend Hannah Arendt tells us, that "Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival."

And, yes I know, joy is indispensable for salvation. It is the sheer rockface I climb every day. Horror films simply remind me of the size of the drop.

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