Sammy the Seal

And the answer is…

In celluloid, words, words, words on Monday, 8 June, 2009 at 6:52

High Fidelity! I haven’t in written in close to two months, and watching this film for the first time in years (probably since it was released in theaters– 2000, whoa) is the trigger. I think the main reason is not that I haven’t felt like talking, but that I didn’t feel like whining. I felt like if I had written, it would have been this semi-loathing-soul-searching-tormented catharsis. One thing that my ex and still friend taught me is that people don’t like to hear whining all the time. It sounds obvious, but I learned this before I left Seattle the first time (which I say because I may very well soon leave a second time, but that’s another blog entry, or not). She simply said that whenever she talked to me on the phone, I was always negative or depressing.  Which was true, lots of moaning. I mean, that’s what friends are for, but eventually you have to get over yourself. I don’t care what your fucking problems are, negativity is not fun to be around.  And I try to minimize that. Lots of people are aware that I don’t like small talk, nor am I good at it. But I’m trying to work on my small-talk skills because it allows the topic to be the other person, rather than me and my neurosis of the day. I guess that’s a function of age. Being a bit self-absorbed, mopey, or dramatic is part of being young. (You may argue that I’m only 30, but I certainly feel like an adult. This kind of rambling perspective is part of it, I thing.) I’m not saying I’m accomplished in life yet, but from the time my ex told me straight out “you’re a downer” I’ve realized that that kinda thing is just going to hold you back. One of the reasons I love being around people and conversing is because it allows me to forget myself for a bit, and just enjoy the other person and where I am. I mean, we all have to solve our own crap ourselves, so why wallow in it any more? If I’m in a good environment or situation, obviously I’m going to feel positive, which is a much better state of mind with which to deal with personal issues.

Anyway, I suppose I won’t talk about the nuts and bolts of the film too much, because I’d have to watch it again, take notes, and drop quotes, and I wouldn’t get to bed until the sun came up. As it is, it’s 230a, so I only have about 2.5 hours. But when I first saw it, I was 22 or 23. Eh, I thought. Of course now, two months from my 31st birthday, oh god. Anyone who has not graduated from their 20s probably can’t understand this, but this is clearly more than a film about a relationship.  First off, I have to say the conceit of the fourth-wall-shattering protagonist rubbed me the wrong way. A story that is aware of itself loses a little something. However, as the film goes on, and John Cusack’s character Rob pores over things, you see how his dialogue with the camera, his overanalytic confessions, are necessary to the story. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that this is my curse. I savor the details of things too much, I lose track of the simplicity of what the thing is. Too much think-y, not enough act-y. And the thing is, I started to get frustrated with the character’s selfish need to know what it all means and how to make everything nice and neat, when of course, guess who I’m really frustrated with. It’s like my friend saying “you’re a downer”— it’s all well and good hash things over and analyze them to death, but at the end of the day, chapter, or story, something has to be done. It’s kind of a heavy-handed, too-aware moment (despite that he’s been talking to us the whole time), but after Rob leaves the funeral, he comes to the following realization about Laura, and everything else, as I see it:

“…I always had one foot out the door, and that prevented me from doing a lot of things. Like thinking about my future and— I guess it made more sense to commit to nothing, keep my options open. It’s really just suicide. By tiny, tiny increments.”

I had a conversation with my friend Ruben the other night about age, the idea of Saturn returns, and the need to do something bold and assertive in re-assessing one’s life. He opined that it was bold for me to come back out to Seattle, but I disagreed that it wasn’t. For starters, I’ve lived here before, it’s familiar. Even moving to New York City sight unseen didn’t strike me as bold, because I know I am a very adaptable person, and that I would find work and settle in. I wasn’t worried about me, because I know I can count on me. Adaptation is one of my strengths. I disagreed because to me, boldness is risk, doing something when you absolutely don’t know everything will be okay, and doing it anyway. If I moved back to TX, it would be not so much to achieve something specific, but at the very least know that I am even capable of taking a risk or a leap of faith. This may not sound like the best reason to do something, and it’s not really a reason, anyway. (FYI, there are some personal details regarding this potential return that I am intentionally omitting. I normally am free with details, so vagueness is usually intentional with me.)

Anyway, a great thing about the film is that the ex-girlfriend, Laura (played by Danish actress Iben Hjejle), is more than just an object or the one that got away. You get to see where she’s coming from too. One of my favorite devices the film uses is just after she leaves his place to pick up the last of his stuff. Cut to Rob on the street, talking to the camera about the things he misses about Laura, and how the #1 on the top 5 list is her dry, but often warm and forgiving sense of humor, and the way she laughs. Then, near the end, after they’ve reunited, Rob indirectly proposes marriage, and the way she handles the situation is amazing. We know how ridiculous he is to propose in that moment, but she never rubs it in, and you see the cutting yet forgiving laughter he referred to. She laughs heartily and takes a couple of shots at Rob, but as he then awkwardly explains his clumsy proposal, she hunkers down and listens gently but intently.  These are the last lines of the scene:

Laura: I think I know what you mean. But were you really expecting me to say yes?
Rob: I don’t know. I didn’t think about it really. I thought asking was the important part.
Laura: Well, you’ve asked. Thank you.

Despite all Rob’s lines, and no offense to Mr. Cusack,  the scene is Laura’s. She gives him room to make his small step forward, then recognizes it and accepts it. Later, I rewound to that scene and it stood out even more. Neither actor goes for “aw shucks, love me, its okay I forgive you”, they play it true, and it’s possibly the sweetest, most resonant part of the film. There is no promise of a happily ever after, just two people being respectful and honest with one another in the moment. One person doing the nervous talking thing (yes, a callback to John Cusack in Say Anything, which I’ve re-viewed recently, and a phrase I’ve stolen to describe myself), and one person listening. (Refreshingly, the whole film bears this out. They may be the two principals, but the film treats every other character with respect as well.)

Of course, having this sort-of mini-epiphany, I am utterly compelled to write this. But, as with all things, it’s ephemeral. You can’t be constantly inspired, just like you can’t be head-over-heels in love every moment of every day. We’re not wired that way. We need downtime, if nothing else to figure out how to deal with it. So tomorrow morning, will I feel as excited to write and share as I am now? Most definitely no. Will I feel positive and not-so-fearful about the decisions I have to make in the next month or so? I’m cheating since I’m editing this and it’s tomorrow, so I can definitely say no. To paraphrase a writer/producer from a Simpsons commentary (NERD!), you have to remember what inspired you, and what was good, and to not lose track of it, re-evaluate it, or doubt it, because it was there, and it was real. There is a reason an idea or feeling was there in the first place. The spark that starts the fire, and it’s one’s own job to stoke the fire and figure out how to get it roaring, to make a trite and cheesy analogy.  Or at the very least to explore it, to try it. Creativity, love, life, all that crap. Those who do, versus those who would like to do. I’m not just talking about career or artistic aspirations, I’m always hoping to meet anyone like that.

Anyway, I’m cheating again since I’m editing this the next morning and saying wow, this was very idealistic vibe I was running with, almost “yuck” even. Though, even last night, I realized it’s a pretty small story, it ain’t gonna solve the world’s problems, or even mine. But if nothing else, I can utter a familiar refrain: I fucking love film.

  1. Realizing this post is not really about the film at all, I wanted to give a thoughtful comment. The words wouldn’t come, so I figured I’d just give it another go in a few days. But a couple of weeks have gone by and I still can’t quite get my thoughts together to address the real issues here, so I’m going to do the cop out thing and talk about the film.

    When I first got word that John Cusack’s production company was adapting my favorite Nick Hornby book — and that Cusack and his friends were going to re-write the screenplay, setting it in Chicago instead of London — I was, well in shock, but very skeptical. I believe my response was, “Wasn’t that book kind of about London?” No. It wasn’t. It was about growing up. I have to say, this is one of the few times that a film has actually enriched the experience of having read the book instead of the other way around.

    If you read the book, Sammy, you’ll realize just how necessary breaking that 4th wall was. I know you already came to that conclusion, but you’ll get it that much more.

    Glad you went back and revisited. High Fidelity has had a profound effect on many of my male friends.

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