Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Dinner With Andre, a film



Last year I watched a remarkable film, The Man from Earth, an SF film without BEMs, spaceships, ray guns, space battles, etc.  The film consisted solely of a man who had just told a group of his friends that he was something like 12,000 years old and their reaction to this announcement.  There were three possibilities: he has lost his mind, he was lying, he was telling the truth.  The conversation that followed centered on the first two possibilities for they immediately ruled out the third.  The fascination of the film, for me anyway, depended on the skill of the actors and the dialogue, something which I seldom see nowadays in which films are mostly dependent upon special effects and rapid action so that one doesn't realize how weak the story really is.

I mentioned this film to some friends and relatives, and one of them suggested that I watch My Dinner With Andre, for it was similar in one respect.  The film depicted two friend who hadn't seen each other in several years and their conversation over dinner.  Again, this film depended upon the skill of the actors and the dialogue. 

Wally is the POV character (he's played by Wallace Shawn), and he reluctantly agrees to meet Andre (he's played by Andre Gregory) for dinner, after having lost touch with each other for a number of years.  He had heard some strange stories about Andre.  The characters in the film have the same names as the actors who play them, which leads me to wonder if there is some truth to the film.  According to the notes, they are real life friends and wrote the dialogue and were "More or less playing themselves. . ."

The conversation ranges from the New York theater to strange and bizarre trips to India, the Sahara, and Poland that Andre made.   However, there is a theme running through this, which might be best exemplified by the concept of mindfulness.  I first encountered this in some contemporary Buddhist writings, which focuses on being aware and awake to one's present.  According to this concept, too many people are trapped either by the past or by the future and therefore go through life without being aware of the present, which is the only reality we can know..  They are either overcome by grief or anger or remorse over past events or spend their time planning for and worrying about the future. In both situations people are like robots, preprogrammed by the past or the future and not awake to the present and therefore oblivious to reality: it is though they are in a trance.

Andre's experiences all seem to be directed towards getting him and the other participants to focus on themselves as individuals, to break free of their programming in some way.  Most of the events in the workshops or on his trips  appear to be unplanned or unscripted and depend on the spontaneity of those taking part.  However, we are never shown these events, for we learn about them solely through Andre's description of them. We can experience Andre's past only through his conversation.

Wally, however, is resistant to Andre's theme and sees no reason to change, for he's happy the way he is.  In fact, the thought of just "being" and not doing anything frightens him.  For if he is doing nothing, then he must be aware of himself and this he says he cannot do.     




SPOILER:

Wally is however, is not completely immune to Andre's message.  The film opens and closes on Wally.  In the beginning we see Wally running errands and mentally complaining about his bills and lack of income and inability to get his plays produced or even not being able to get any jobs as an actor.  He is almost run down as he crosses the street.  He clearly is not paying attention to his surroundings but is concerned with the errands he must run and his financial status.

There is a subtle difference though at the ending of the film.  We again follow Wally as he leaves the restaurant and this time he decides to take a taxi.  While in the taxi he looks out the window and realizes that many of the buildings that he goes by have some meaning for him, a longtime New York resident.  He now is far more aware of his present surroundings than he was prior to his dinner with Andre.

This film is on my short list of films I will see again.


6 comments:

  1. Impressive review. It all sounds a bit like a Harold Pinter, Sam Shepherd, and Samuel Beckett amalgam with a bit of Raymond Carver thrown in for good measure. I will be on the lookout for it.

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  2. R; T.,

    I'm not sure about Beckett--there's too much hope and a possibility for joy here. I never got the feeling that Andre thought the universe was meaningless or absurd.

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  3. This is one of my all time favorite films! I've seen it 3 or 4 times (most recently on TCM a few months ago) and never tire of it. The conversation is so compelling. Unfortunately, I rarely see this depth of conversation between people in real life these days.

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  4. Cheryl,

    I can see why you enjoyed it so much. By the way, were you the one who recommended it to me last year?

    As I said at the end of the post, I will watch it again.

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  5. Fred,

    I don't remember if I had recommended it or not. I'm just glad you got a chance to see it.

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  6. Cheryl,

    I had come across numerous references to it, so I decided it was time to take a look at it. Glad I did.

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