Wednesday, March 01, 2006

58. "Living like this is a full-time business." --Mark "Rent-Boy" Renton, Trainspotting

Danny Boyle is my age--both of us born in 1956--and I'm just foolish enough to let that mean something. Or maybe not so foolish, if only because I often find myself sharing the concerns and sensibilities of his movies. He may be from Manchester and I from New Jersey, but we both seemed to have passed the same streets on our way home.

I felt a touch of kinship from the start. Shallow Grave (1994) comes from the same world as Seinfeld's. The people on this planet are self-indulgent, self-destructive--but oblivious, even taken aback by the notion that something could go terribly wrong. And before it does, there's endless laughter, cutting wit, childish glee. I rode that wave in my early 20s, luckily avoiding jail or impalement, but still surfing those waters with my friends, our tireless energy for the clever--and the clever-clever, the self-conscious and -reflexive, sending us through the pipeline. Boyle grabbed that sensibility and rubbed our noses in it, but good.

And speaking of "deserved," did any of us get what we deserved--or expected--from 1996's Trainspotting? As with all post-Pulp Fiction cinema of various underworlds, this movie used aggressive punctuation, visually, aurally, every which way, not only to watch its addicts caper and reel, but to let us all but lay our hands on the third rail of their lives. I'd been waiting for a movie that pulled back the leathery flaps of addiction's chest-cavity--no, really, I had--and not simply as docu- or shocku-drama, but like a mad doctor intent on the necessary understanding that leads to a cure. But Boyle's film is smarter than that, and knows that "choosing life" is not the "cure," but simply the other kid, the one that sits on the curb across the street--hearing and seeing the hoods rumble in the playground there across the way, maybe even wiping his own bloody nose, sent staggering from the fray and deciding for once to just go home. Trainspotting is like that exhausted punk, rueful, but nervous he might go back.

In light of--or is that in the shadow of?--Trainspotting, 28 Days Later (2002) made me see something in the Danny Boyle movies I'd watched that I had only guessed at, hoped for. It was a simple gesture, really, but I was thankful for it: He was concerned for his characters, and did his best to save most of them--despite the necessity, as we know (and as I've written before), of supreme idiocy at some point in a horror film, to get the innocent that last inch closer to the monster--and did indeed spare some of them. It became a movie about survival strategies, rather than execution techniques. Preferable, yes? A movie that instructs the prey rather than the predator.

And then--as I've experienced enough times before that I continue to allow the movies to sit there in front of me, demanding my attention--Boyle shows me what I'd like to think is the card he's always been holding, the one that's determined every play, every bet: Millions (2004). Aside from the fact that this movie seems to place Boyle in the category of directors who want to work in every genre, it also vindicates the attention I've been paying to his movies. I knew he had it in him, this sweet, sad, joyful lark, suckering me in with casual saints and clear water. I watched it as part of a long movie weekend that included Domino, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, This Gun for Hire, and The Constant Gardener--and one of my daughters pointed out that the last and Millions both involve themselves with Africa, the death of a wife, and the need for redemption. I'm wearing ashes today, asked to accept love and humility. And watching Millions, I felt ready to stop being clever-clever, to pick myself up and go home, to protect and serve. The little boy who talks to saints in Millions, Damian Cunningham, has a conversation with St. Clare of Assisi. She lights up a cigarette, and Damian asks her if they're allowed to smoke in heaven; she tells him, "You can do what you like up there, son. It's down here you have to make the effort." I'm not sure where Danny Boyle's efforts might lead, but the movies I've seen reveal a hand bold enough to touch fire and generous enough to offer a palmful from a sweet spring.

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