Thursday, 22 January 2009

I'll show you the life of the mind

Yesterday I re-watched the disturbing Cohen brother's film Barton Fink. One of the most gripping images in the movie is John Goodman with a shotgun running down the hotel corridor as it erupts in flame behind him shouting 'I'll show you the life of the mind, I'll show you the life of the mind'. It is a pity that the DVD makers used that scene for the intro to the menu page - rather than letting viewer be surprised by it in the natural course of the movie. However, it wasn't that scene which has stuck in my memory over the years since I first watched this movie. What I distinctly remember is the very final scene of the film. A woman sitting on the beach, her arm crooked as she shades her eyes to look out over the sea. The woman - the beach - the pose - is all exactly as in a photograph Barton has been looking at on his hotel wall since the beginning of the movie. In the final few seconds of film a seagull flies across the background, and about half way across the screen drops like a stone into the sea. I remember thinking when I first saw it - how did they do that?

Except what I distinctly remember is wrong. The bird isn't a seagull, and it doesn't drop dead into the sea, but dives in like fishing birds do. You see it pop back to the surface just before the credits roll. And the woman on the beach isn't exactly like the one in the photo. It is very obviously a reference to the photo - but on the hotel version there is a beach umbrella which is absent in the recreation. I have described this scene to various people over the years - and now realize that it was my description that is what I remembered - not the scene itself.

I am writing up an invitation list for my wedding celebrations. I drew up a list of all the people over the decades who have meant a lot to me (even though many of them I haven't been in contact with for years). Since the reception space is limited - I then have to whittle the list back down - which is a horrible soul-destroying job to do. Even worse, however, is the spiral of nostalgia and memories that are being invoked by the exercise. And even worse still is realizing that great iceberg chunks of memory must have been breaking off and melting away into the sea of alcohol I have been adrift in for so long. I have been left paralyzed trying to remember the last names of once good friends - sent trawling through email archives - performing acts of internet stalking to fill in details. And how much of what remains has been Finked? How much resembles events and people past and how much is fantasy recreations of the life I wish I had had? Last night I dreamt that I was married to a different woman - a girlfriend from maybe a decade ago - one of the people on the list. My dream seemed to be saying 'I'll show you the life of the mind'.

1 comment:

thomask said...

wow. just wow, on so many levels.

i watched barton fink (for the first time) last weekend. i'm working up a wedding invite list. i'm drinking too much.

we've got frequent flier miles, i might come to hanoi for a drink.