by Douglas Messerli
way people are trained to watch movies, to seek a “comprehensive
If we presume that Charlie is also the murderer of Audrey Taylor, Mayhew, and others— perhaps even Fink’s family members—given the film’s goofy structure, we have as much evidence that Fink himself may have “destroyed” them—if not in “reality,” certainly in his pretenses of reality as revealed his plays. In a film about film, about dreams within dreams, there is no possibility of separating what we might describe as real and what is fantasy. All becomes a kind of illusion—just like the fire that flares up upon the hotel walls without consuming them—and the struggles we are witness between the “good” wrestler and the “bad” wrestler represent, perhaps, the struggles that Fink must undergo within his own mind as he is gradually forced to come to terms—at least subconsciously—with the lies he has been telling himself.
The question remains, obviously, whether or not Fink as a survivor of the battling ordeal, has really learned anything. We can only wonder if his wrestling with devils has allowed him the ability even to listen to truth. If Fink has been deaf, so too, apparently has been his ultra-ego, Charlie, who suffers throughout from an ear-infection. Through the struggle, moreover, we come to perceive that, in his mistaken notion of Charlie as a “common man,” Fink has, in a strange way, come to love the terrifying homicidal oaf. Indeed, the relationship between the two—even as the police imagine it—is perversely homoerotic. Charlie, we remind ourselves, remains at film’s end Fink’s only friend.
If Charlie were the “common man” that Fink has perceived him to be, it would surely mean that the everyday human beings of our world are all truly monsters—which they may well be, given the inverted notions of commonness that Fink espouses. We can’t know whether or not the final script that Fink is finally able to create anything of worth, having apparently overcome his writing block. Lipnick’s declaration that the script is still “a fruity movie about suffering” suggests that he has not changed, at least, his literary perspective. But fruity here, while it suggests “queer” or “arty,” might also imply a sense of “fruitfulness,” a ripening of vision.
If nothing else, the experience hopefully has expanded our vision. If Fink is now a slave to a system which will allow him no further contribution to its definitions of life, we are, at least, now free to, even encouraged to, evaluate the situation. Suddenly, watching this film yesterday, it not only no longer mattered that Fink had not yet opened the parcel. Rather, I prayed that he carry that package with him throughout his life (the part and parcel of his own still undefined experiences) without ever opening it. For, like Pandora’s Box it might contain all the evils of the world, allowing them to escape. Given the specter of World War and apocalypse facing us at film’s close, we might suppose that Fink indeed has, once the credits rolled by, attempted to peek into that package.
Meanwhile, the filmmakers allow him one more chance to resolve the problems he has with his vision—difficulties with seeing made so obvious through his heavy, black-rimmed eyeglasses. At the seashore, Fink suddenly comes upon the very girl he has daily looked-upon in the picture hung upon his hotel-room wall. Clearly, he still has difficulty hearing, as she attempts to praise the lovely day. But can he now comprehend, when he absurdly asks her, “Are you in pictures?” that her answer, “Don’t be silly,” should not be understood as a negative. For obviously she is “in pictures,” as he has observed in the frame in his room; she is clearly also in “pictures,” if you define that word as “movies,” just like the one we’re watching her in now. If she has previously seemed to be simply looking out into the horizon, carefully shading her eyes from the sun, we might now perceive as scanning the horizon for the future, attempting to discern what might lay there. In his devotion to his notion of the “real,” I am afraid, Fink will have to pick apart that piece of twine holding in the parcel’s secret to witness that dream of the Gorgon once again. But at least we have the hope that he might just sit for a while and take in the sun—with no sailor, or fisherman, or even fishmonger in sight. It’s such a lovely day that no other “reality” can possibly match our nearly empty gaze upon a gaze.
Los Angeles, October 28, 2014Reprinted from World Cinema Review (October 2014).