I like movies, especially when I should be doing something else. I’m like Binx Bolling in Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer, who was happiest while watching films, even bad ones. What with my profession and all, you’d think I’d like foreign films, black-and-white Danish flicks made in the 1960s, say. Well, yes. But I can be a cinematic philistine, too. I like expensively and crassly produced films involving few words and large explosives. Especially if the Thanksgiving holiday’s too far away, and I’m supposed to be grading my first-year students’ article abstracts.
(Doesn’t the deferral of Thanksgiving to November 28 make this month too impossibly long?)
Anyway. Maybe I need a support group. A fine Mark Edmundson essay in American Scholar suggests,
People who need movies, the true moviegoers, go in the afternoon; matinees are therapy for those who can’t afford therapists or don’t know that they should get one.
Edmundson said that when as a young man he wandered the streets of Manhattan, he heard again and again the same message:
This city….does not require you at all. No provisions have been made. There is no slot. You’ll have to force your way in, on the off chance that you can get in at all.
I wonder how many students think that as they walk Trinity’s sidewalks, as they stand at the soda dispenser in the Caf, as they click on the Dr. Who episode on their friend’s Netflix account at 4:00 on a Thursday afternoon. Sure, we watch stuff because we love story and character, symbol and beauty. But we’re also looking for a way to jack into the world. Moviegoing is a tactic for dealing with the distress of disconnectedness. Disconnectedness from God, from each other, from the creation, from the self. But there are other ways to be alienated. Come to think of it, nothing makes you feel disconnected and lonely like being a Super Responsible Person. Sometimes when I feel like I just don’t belong anywhere, I try to work harder. Grading earlier, reading longer, typing faster, sleeping less. And sometimes that works. But what a weariness to the flesh. Dealing with lostness by living a decent, hard-working, pay-for-what-you-get kind of life–it is, in the words of Seerveld’s Ecclesiastes, a constipated fart. It also looks suspiciously like I’m trying to get onto some celebrity talk show, hosted by some equivalent to that Hunger Games guy, Caesar Flickman:
Welcome back, everybody. Today, in Studio Amazing our guest is Craig Mattson, and I wonder, Craig, if you’d be willing to share with your fan base—just how do you do it?
Isn’t that a vision? The leading, flattering question. The deferential interviewer. The boom mic just off camera, but poised and fully on. Funny thing is, being a Super Responsible Person doesn’t make me easier to live with. I’m liable to get angry with others who aren’t so ethically caffeinated as I am. I’m vulnerable to fits of self-congratulation, followed hard by self pity. I crave being noticed. Little wonder, I get stuck in a dialectic, oscillating between a duty-doing that intensifies alienation and moviegoing that massages alienation.
My hunch is that if we are to foster good, sustainable intellectual community here at Trinity–especially among those of us who are too often Super Responsible People–we should seek grace to slip the oscillation between moviegoing and duty-doing. We should find ourselves together in the strange world of God’s excessive goodness. We’re unacquainted with this goodness. We’re used to the goods served up by celebrities or the goods achieved by time-management gurus. But these are goods in a world in which you find yourself in God’s company and in the company of those deeply loved by God.
Does that sound too literary for life as it is? Maybe if you’re a moviegoer. You know there has to be a letdown in here somewhere.
“[N]o hangover is so common,” writes Edmundson, “as the one that ensues when we walk out of a movie, especially out of a matinee and into the sunlight.”
But let’s keep eyes peeled for ways to get in on things in this world of God’s making. Let’s look for ways of dealing with our sometimes alienation by faithful work, not sanctimonious sacrifice; trusting rest, not restless amusement.
And then, let’s trade notes before the matinee.
Edmundson, Mark. “Alone at the Movies.” The American Scholar.