Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Moviegoer (...or...Will you please get over "Eat Pray Love?")

I almost cried two days ago, looking at wall size paintings of the Life of Christ. The DRE at our Parish took all the Catechists on a tour through the resource videos she had in her office, pointing us in the direction of things we might use in the classroom, and this video was one of the items she highlighted, pulling out the screen and projector so we could all see what we were getting into.

It had been too long since I’ve seen really good art, and religious art, at that, shown on such a large scale that all my senses perked up. We weren’t looking at the real thing, an altarpiece placed over the tabernacle, but regardless, even video stills inspired contemplation. Image has such profound effect on the imagination.

Believe it or not, I had all these thoughts in mind when I decided to go see Eat Pray Love tonight at the movie theater. If anyone spent as much time picking apart my writing as I have spent hashing out this particular book, I would tell them to get a life. Move on, please. Liz Gilbert does not care that you found fault with her book, and if it was so bad, then why’d you just spend $7.50 to see the movie? (Liz Gilbert thanks you for the donation, by the way.)

Because image has a profound effect on the imagination, and tonight, I wanted to leave the fish sticks and broccoli on the table and go to Bali with Javier Bardem. And as a sensory experience, the movie delivered: lots of close-ups of sun-lit pasta slurped into Julia Roberts juicy lips; crunching, chewing, talking with full mouths; serendipitous friendships with beautiful people made in places where hibiscus flowers line the streets. So the author and self-styled heroine behaved badly—maybe I can forgive her. Oh how a movie can transport a soul.

And then said soul leaves the movie theater, walks out to where the local teenagers are cussing in the parking lot on a sultry summer night, sees the Wal-mart sign casting an upward glow on the dark sky, gets into her beat up car that smells of skunk and old tennis shoes, and wonders why the real world is so darn ugly. THIS is why that book eats at me. Because more than any other book I’ve read in my life—this particular book makes me despair of Middle America.

I took my kids to the Public pool last night, for “Flick and Float,” a free open air movie, while you swim! The public pool is really expensive, so I jump at a free day at the pool. Free days at the community pool bring out the best of humanity, lots of skin, big juicy skin, with tattoos creeping out of bikini bottoms, curving around biceps, decorating the dimples on a nymph-like lower back.

And the adults in the deeper end of the pool were crowded into the water, not arm’s length apart, no swimming going on at all, just walking, in the water, arms below ground, eyes scanning the waters’ edge. There’s a skin show going on and no one can keep their eyes to themselves, and it’s just not Bali. It’s full of sensory experience…plenty of imagery to chew on here, but why can’t I love it as much as I think I would love “somewhere else?”

My husband asked me to pick up some Cokes for him on the way home from the movie, so I followed the beacon light to Wal-mart, my second pilgrimage of the day to the local food pantry. Inside, maybe because I was in a hurry to get to the soda aisle with my empty cart, and so many others were hastily pushing their empty carts to grab their last case of beer before the ball dropped on Saturday night, I kept nearly running into people.

The aisles were narrow. The carts were swift. People were on a mission under the hyped-up influence of halogen lights. Serendipitous encounters galore, and I rejected them. A smile here, an “excuse me” there, then keep on truckin’ to the check-out line. Got to get home to my fish sticks and broccoli, which were no more lovely sitting out on the counter than they were two hours ago.

And now I need a new image for contemplation, a new soul transporting, sensory enlivening image that helps me love this life and this mess and all these unlovely people with whom I share this bit of earth a little more. The image would have to be darker than the halogen lights at Wal-mart, more painful than brushing up against my fellow consumers, more odiferous than my van. It might have to have some blood in it, death even, to remind me that I’m not actually hurting. And for location, someplace I’d never want to go, a place so hideous it could only be called The Skull.

17 comments:

Hope said...

That last paragraph left me in tears.

Rebekka said...

You could volunteer at a hospice. That's dark, smelly, painful, bloody, full of life and death, and beautiful.

Rebekka said...

I hope that didn't sound condescending - it was meant in all seriousness. I find that being around dying people is great for washing away the sour taste of the petty and banal.

wifemotherexpletive said...

you know... i just don't think walmart is pretty, nor the fact that there is a monster lurking there, in the lighting, the life. i think it is okay to despair of it all in those places. it is the outside, the cussing teens in all their exploratory glory, the skunk who sprayed the iron beast of a car...
its in the air, not the vents... :)

eaucoin said...

And this is why we're supposed to keep our eyes trained on the cross, isn't it? When I look at the cross, I know that if love doesn't cost me absolutely everything I have, I'm probably not doing it well. Nowadays, people seem to be more comfortable with the cross sans corpus. My sister said that when they shared their church building with other faiths (who were also struggling with dwindling congregations), they were told that they needed to get rid of the corpus and just have the cross, and they did so, because they didn't want to make anybody uncomfortable. But that's a whitewash really--love is messy, it costs us everything and nobody gets out alive. Forgetting this reality just makes us feel alone, and we're not alone.

Kris Livovich said...

I read a recent review of the movie and the critic put it, "who WOULDN'T want to have sex with Javier Bardem in Bali?"

The only image that makes this life truly beautiful is Christ, in all His hideous beauty. I find myself being sucked in by the daydreams and gorgeous lives of others, my life is not that pretty, but I'm left empty-feeling and angry. We need work and blood and hardship to truly open our eyes.

BettyDuffy said...

It seems like the past few years of my life have been an attempt to see how much I can get away with and still consider myself, "not OF the world." I always want to keep one hand and one foot in the popular dialogue of the day, stay informed (because I'm a grown-up after all) even though I know that following that line of thinking always leaves me disgruntled.

The truth is, I am a child in need of a master. I want parameters, even knowing I will rebel against them. The characters in Percy's "The Moviegoer" just want someone to tell them what to do. That's one small reason why I am Catholic.

"Eyes trained on the Cross." Eucoin, what you wrote is beautiful: "love is messy, it costs us everything and nobody gets out alive. Forgetting this reality just makes us feel alone, and we're not alone."

TS said...

Great post. It's interesting I read your post immediately after Heather King's, which seems a fitting juxtaposition.

Peter and Nancy said...

I think that one of satan's biggest tools is making me think that real life should be clean and pretty like a movie. Then I end up dreaming only of nicer things on this earth, rather than the cross or heaven.

Nancy

Marie said...

I think the reason epl bugs me so darned much is because it appeals. It's like when I taught high school and the prissy blond girls who rolled their eyes up when you asked them what "blitzkrieg" meant were the ones who drove me nuts, the Mexican-American gang members who tagged the school walls and jumped each other in and out of the gang always got my sympathy. . . .

I want to go to Bali and be adored, too, I say with a pout. Don't you think I want to go to Bali? But Bali is not there. . .

Fortunately, Bali is somewhere. . . although I'll confess, not usually at Walmart. . . .

BettyDuffy said...

"I think the reason epl bugs me so darned much is because it appeals."
Exactly.

It's appealing to think you can just grab life by the horns and get whatever you want out of it, especially when you can gloss over the sinful aspects of what you've done and make them look like God's special plan for a favored daughter.

I chose the Cross. I'd choose it again.

And I'm trying to make ammends with the fact that by some odd series of historical events (the industrial revolution, the commercialization of farming, capitalism, and my having five children) that means Wal-mart is going to have ME by the balls. A true Cross.

Karly said...

I'm glad to hear that you have been looking at goood art as part of your role as a teacher, Betty. We need beauty--sometimes we need it more than our daily bread. I'm reading a little book by Elaine Scarry now, called "On Beauty and Being Just," an inspiration for Zadie Smith's novel of half the same name, that purports to explain just why we need beauty so much (I'm not buying her argument). But I have to say that sometimes we need the beauty to be found in the skull and corpus, and sometimes we need to be lulled and comforted and held.....one of my favorite paintings, I wonder if you saw on your travels to Rome? It is Caravaggio's Rest on the Flight to Egypt, at the Galleria Doria Pamphili. More than anything I've ever seen, it captures the profound peace that one hopes to experience and provide as a mother.

One other quick reactions: this post also made me think of one of my favorite lines from REM's song "Man on the Moon", despairing of American ugliness: "Here's a truck stop, instead of St. Peter's...yeah yeah yeah yeah." I'm romantically nostalgic for a time when people worked together for the collective, beautiful achievements. We're all to harried and busy rushing down those aisles with our carts, it seems, these days.

Karly said...

Apparently I was too harried by my dwindling time on this public library computer to spell correctly.

I did have a quick third reaction, though, which is that your photographs (I'm thinking in particular of the one of a horizon-full of corn at twilight that was a masthead for awhile) have made me jealous for that rural Indiana beauty I got to experiencee too, if only briefly. So thank you for documenting the beauty in Middle America.

me said...

I did not read the book, but remembered your writings about it. I saw the movie yesterday. I found it so contrived. Watching Roberts was like having to eat an entire bag of candy orange slices in one sitting. And, after I left the matinee, I drove to the hot asphalt pavement of my kids' school. I ditched the carpool line, walked across the parking lot, picked up three bad-mood kids - anxious, annoyed, begging for a squirt of water. It was amidst this stress that I thought of Gilbert's passion for the Hindu's God within and my own desire for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I want to live in the spirit each day, not the flesh. It is easier in exotic Bali than it is on the hot pavement of the schoolyard - ungrateful children to boot.

Betty, I just glanced at your Alexa score. I remember when your blog was around 13 million. It's now at 1.1 million or so (the smaller the better). You've rocked along. You're such a great writer. I read you first. Well, almost first. =) I don't have much time to visit blogs these days. I'm working more, but I think of you often. You're on the short list of people I can all upon to pray for me when the need arises. Sincerely, jen

Anonymous said...

Rock on, skunk soaked van and all, you are not a movie star and EPL film is not real either. Wal-mart and cussing teens are. Keep on truckin and keep on prayin, one day it will all be paradise.

Pentimento said...

We are all in Babylon.

(word verification = "barking.")

Aimee said...

This is just a fantastic post. Thank you.