Saturday, August 7, 2010

'The' vs. 'A'

My parents, though both roughly born in the baby-boomer era (though my father doesn't quite qualify, having been born in '43), managed to steer clear of the free-love, hippy movement that so many of their generation cleaved to.  Father spent four years (three?) in the air force, became an industrial engineer, while Mother was a schoolteacher turned full-time Mom.  Our family chemistry reflected something closer to a "Leave it to Beaver" era than a "Nixon is the Foghorn of the Great Evil Corporate America" sentiment.  Because of this, it still surprises me when I reflect on their fondness for singer/poet/songwriter Rod McKuen.

McKuen reached a fair degree of celebrity with his hits, "Jean" and "Seasons in the Sun", but he never denied his activist, bay-area liberal mentality.  To make my point; McKuen has a song dedicated to denigrating the intelligence (or, according to Rod, lack thereof) of Vice President Spiro Agnew.  Despite this, my parents have consistently adored his ability to tell stories, and impart his soul articulately through his prose and poetry.

I'm proud to be able to share a love for ol' Rod's work with them.  I'm pleased that my loving parents opened that world up to me.  My favorite of McKuen's poem's is entitled "The Single Man"The short poem collectivizes the experience of loneliness.  It is refreshing in it's inclusivity.  Though it of course is a sad voyage, it brings us through the experience together.  Hence the, "The".  "The Single Man" represents our collective loneliness.  I find a world of lonely people sharing their loneliness together as somehow inspiring, refreshing. 

Last year, director Tom Ford made a film about a gay English professor in 1962 LA whose young lover has died.  We follow the professor through one day of mournful suffering, reminiscing.  The film is laboriously slow.  This is not the type of slow that accompanies a Kubrick flick, no.  No, when I say slow, I mean boring.  A Single Man is often a boring film to endure.  I write this as not a critique or insult.  Mr. Ford did not make The Single Man.  He is not outlining the simple thread of experience that all the heartbroken know.  Upon viewing, you'll find that that is precisely not what the film is going about doing.

What is displayed is not the collective experience of pain, but instead, the horrifyingly particularness of loss.  If we mourn together, than the sensation is dumbed and dulled.  To be alone is to be alone; there can be no empathizing of the protagonist's plight.  We are kept at arm's length -- and boredom is the most effective tool to keep us from moving in.

Now, why make a film like this, if we can't identify ourselves in it?

Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream does a swell job at taking the viewer down the rabbit hole of addiction.  This is undeniable.  What that film is not about, is the pain of recovery.  We are left with all the characters regressing back into the infantesque fetal position -- moments before they die or live to face the horror of withdrawals.

To survive withdrawals, one must recognize that any individual moment is endurable, and then build a wall after every second.  I endured a second.  Good.  Build a wall.  Never look back.  Endure another second.  Breathe.  This is how it goes (so I understand).  What is so fascinating about that process is the sense of loss that accompanies it.  Not only does the body writhe in convulsions and need, but a sense of lost purpose swells within an addict's mind.  A recovering addict must identify and deal with a new reality; their whole world, at it's pinnacle, revolved around the substance they worshiped.

This is what A Single Man is, a lesson in addiction recovery.  People are themselves the very substances that we become addicted to.  And there's hell to pay for it.

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