Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mindshot: The Graduate/Citizen Kane

Movies are full of life lessons.  

Just yesterday, upon my freshman viewing of Hitch, I learned that the guy should move 90% of the way for a first kiss, and then hold it.  Apparently the 90/10 rule is important.  Non-observance of this rudimentary criterion is surely why none of my past relationships have had swell-like third acts.

One gentleman who certainly didn't discipline himself to the 90% precept, was the one, Mr. Benjamin Braddock.

Young Ben, manipulated by the powers-that-be to take out the daughter of his mistress on a date, has decided to be cruel.  He pays no attention to the beautiful, naive girl, choosing rather to beeline through crowds, hiding his inner angst behind a large pair of sunglasses and a too-cool-for-school expressionless mug.  Then the cruelty.  He takes her to a strip club.  She cries.

This impressionable, clearly demeaned young lady rushes out of that damnable place.  Ben, perhaps finally exhibiting some kernel of remorse, chases after the girl.  He catches her.  She asks to go home.  He asks her to stop crying.  She won't.  She can't.  And so then naturally the thing to do to ease the tension is to kiss her, right?  Apparently.  After the snog, everything is hunky-dory, and the two little love birds are free for the moment to connect with one another in a personal, soul-mateish fashion.  It's all so sickly sweet... because he went the whole hog outside of the strip club.

Perhaps I am just a schmuck, but I've never eased out of any tense moment by slopping on a quick make-out scene, nor have I ever watched this successfully take place in my real world.  In the world that I dwell within, I feel like there's a pretty decent chance I'm getting pepper sprayed as soon as I enter that 91% realm unannounced.

The Graduate was based on a novel by a dude, adapted into a screenplay by two other dudes, and directed by another dude entirely.  The whole layout of the scene strikes me as a male chauvinistic wet dream.  Ben Braddock is able to solve the moment's riddle by giving the girl what she clearly really wants: strong physical affection! 

So then I wondered; if The Graduate is on the boundaries in the male spectrum of romantic pipe-dreams, what would the female version of that look like? 

I found my answer with Charlotte Bronte.

In Jane Eyre, the sterling Edward Rochester has, for ages, treated the humble, plain, and passionately loving Jane Eyre as nothing more than a mere friend.  Jane has been led to believe that Edward here is wooing some stupid rich dingbat who's lineage is something very glittery indeed.  Glitter was very important to 19th century Brits.  Mr. Rochester comes to Jane one afternoon to inform her that her services (Jane tutors Edward's daughter) are no longer needed.  She is free to leave Edward's abode.  This, understandably, leaves Jane in shambles.  Edward plays the fool, inquiring as to why Jane could ever be so bent out of shape.  Jane capitulates.  She confesses her devotion to the man.  His reply is to ask her to marry him.  This statement confuses Jane.  She asks why Edward had ignored her and flirted so much with that other haughty vixen.  Edward admits,

Jane, to make you as in love with me, as I am in love with you.

And the women in the room swoon.  Don't you see?  When men treat women poorly, it's just because they are testing their love!  Us men folk don't want to show our vulnerabilities, so we hide it behind deception and cruelty!  Yep-yep-yep!  Hip, hip, hooray!!!

Jane Eyre, as well as The Graduate, appear to me to be two sides of the same coin.  This is perhaps an Achilles' heel for story.  Under the story universe, our dear protagonists have these predispositions to activism.  Very seldomly are characters sketched out through passive decisions (my apologies to the cast of Driving Miss Daisy).  No, good storytelling requires a confluence of acts of boldness.

Life, perhaps, is story with long bits of inaction mixed in.  Those moments of inaction stay with us.  They define us too. 

Even (or especially) in the realm of romance, I find those illustrations of passiveness, of 10%ness rather than 90ness, as particularly true and poignant.  Enter Citizen Kane.

Whilst trying to uncover the mystery of Rosebud, Mr. Franklin chooses to interview Charles Foster Kane's right hand man, Mr. Bernstein.  Bernstein has no idea where the iconic word comes from, or why it would be Kane's dying word.  Then Bernstein, hired his whole life as a problem solver, hypothesizes that perhaps Rosebud represented something Kane lost.  He goes on;

A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl. 
Perhaps it is our actions that dictate the story of our lives, but it is our acts of passivity that continue to haunt us.


  1. So the question begs to be asked: what passive act haunts you?

  2. I'm not seeing any begging going on.