Thursday, March 23, 2006

64. "How am I not myself?"

Although in some ways I feel uncomfortably like I'm watching an indie-phile's case study that hits all the right notes--"philosophical" musings countered by self-reflexive deconstruction of such musings; startlements (the string of profanities that begins the movie, Jason Schwartzman being wet-nursed by Jude Law); lo-fi soundtrack; primary-color palette (with digital doodlings); reinvention of Old Guards (Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin) as Old Turks (not to mention the Young ones, particularly Jason (Rushmore) Schwartzman); and obligatory stunt-casting and iconoclasm (consider Naomi Watts disheveled and Isabelle Huppert begrimed--and bent over a log)--I must admit to heart-ing I Heart Huckabees (2004).

The problem, though, is that I am a sentimentalist--at times unashamed, at others apologetic, at still others masked by a faux-casual "directness" I fear I've swiped from my betters: Phil Marlowe, Bogart, even Bruce Willis when he isn't howling through a firestorm. In any case, my sentimentalism impedes me from a clear-eyed appreciation of the general shape of a movie. I go in wanting one particular thing, getting another--or, more often, many others--but willfully tossing it all out in favor of some off-center self-referential moment, some hint of my own life outside the movie, instead of sticking with the movie itself. I simply have too much (I believe) I want to say. Thank God I actually try to be silent during a movie--even so, I've been scolded for spontaneous utterances; heck, I can even now see myself at home pausing the movie to hold forth on something.

Yet I'm the one who's always insisting that the first pleasure of movies is the passive nature of the experience. Consider that it affects both sight and hearing--and even feeling, even at home, with the surround sound cranked up (I won't consider John Waters' foray into "Odorama" in 1981's Polyester)--to such a degree that one can surrender to it unconsciously. Live theater cannot do this, at least for me: I'm always aware that I'm watching people pretend. But the movies allow me--or so I keep insisting--to sit back and relax, while they lay it all out for me. Ha! Never happened, else I would never watch them. I know me--and the fact that I have finally broken down over the last few years and committed to writing about the intersection between movies and my life testifies to this: I need to remake everything in my own image. I'll spot something in a movie--a big thing, like the yearning for home in Howards End (1992); or a small thing, like Dick Powell's half-smiles in Murder, My Sweet (1944)--and hog it all for myself, as if it were just waiting there for me to pick it up--or, my real fear, to wrench it out of context--and take it home with me, where I can re-tool it, kustom-kar-style, to fit my own dizzy dreams.

I did all this and more to I Heart Huckabees--and I'm glad I've been writing about this, because it's only taken me a couple of paragraphs to convince myself I've done nothing wrong; actually, I'm doing exactly what I should. At the moment when a movie trips the breaker and shuts me down, I have the opportunity, quiet in the dark, fumbling to regain the light--but calm, even (if I must say so myself) thoughtful--to decide what to do when I switch the light back on. Huckabees is a good movie for this kind of ruminating reinvention; indeed, it all but demands it. When Schwartzman's Albert looks at the Polaroid of his arch-nemesis Brad (Jude Law) in tears, and little digital squares float like butterflies atop Brad's face, replacing it with Albert's, I felt the breaker go--and the light I restored, in a second or two, was made of forgiveness and reconciliation. Albert was seeing interconnectedness. It was bliss.

And then of course the movie cuts to a slo-mo interlude in which Albert and Brad spin joyfully, clutching each others' hands in mouthwash-fresh bliss, love conquering all at last, in a soft-focus, screw-that-noise dismantling of the moment--but not quite, and not entirely. Huckabees keeps doing that: Handing me a bright gem or clod of earth, and asking me to erase the distinction--while maintaining judgment, moral and otherwise. See? I've remade the movie, gotten it right where I want it--I'll write "need it" for the sake of justification and completion. But I think Huckabees plays this game, not because of, but despite, my inclination--my determination, I admit--to lay claim to every movie, to set it just so on the mantle, where I can glance at it to remind me of me. I heart Huckabees because it chides me for such colonization, such empire-building--but opens its borders to me at the same time, daffy and deft; my kind of tightrope-walk, where I can achieve my own balance, and make my way at my own chosen speed.

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