The Ancient Prophecies of "My Dinner with Andre"
Listening to it I found that My Dinner had accurately described, forty years ago, much of the degraded culture we must either exist within or glide to the side of these days.
Once upon a time in New York City, it was very au courant to see the quirky Wallace Shawn flick, My Dinner with Andre. It was the kind of movie those in the In Crowd (or those yearning to be in the In Crowd) flock to. It was a sleepy slice of cinema; just two men sitting at a dinner table in a restaurant eating and talking for two hours. It was low budget but well-lit and photographed. And it was, for once, a very well-written film, award-winning in fact. There were a couple of months in Manhattan when My Dinner was the talk of the town and as such was featured more than a few times in The New Yorker's "The Talk of the Town." Simply put, it was a must-see movie for real New Yorkers and those that hoped to become, like some Velveteen Rabbits on cocaine suppositories, real New Yorkers.
Of course, I saw it. In 1981.
At that time I ate somewhat frequently where the film was set at Café des Artistes, I dined on the expense account and even carried on a brief affair in the art deco artists' studio apartments above. In a way, I sort of lived the typical real New Yorker's life where the issues of the film and the subjects of the conversation were normal at the time. This made for a very enjoyable film since it both confirmed my yearning for "Real New Yorker" status and confirmed my sense of belonging to that benighted Gotham. My Dinner was a film custom-made for that time in that place.
But as that time and place faded I just let "My Dinner with Andre" dissolve in the waters of oblivion for forty years.
Then, mysteriously, I discovered this 3-minute clip from the film had somehow found its way to my desktop last week. Listening to it I found that My Dinner had accurately described, forty years ago, much of the degraded culture we must either exist within or glide to the side of these days.
The film itself is simplicity itself:
My Dinner with Andre is a 1981 American comedy-drama film directed by Louis Malle, and written by and starring André Gregory (Andre) and Wallace Shawn (Wally). The actors play fictionalized versions of themselves sharing a conversation at Café des Artistes in Manhattan. The film's dialogue covers topics such as experimental theatre, the nature of theatre, and the nature of life, and contrasts Wally's modest humanism with Andre's spiritual experiences.
That's the gist of it but it leaves out the luminous brilliance of the script. My Dinner With Andre is a pocket masterpiece of film writing. It's probably the least-cliched script in existence. That alone makes it worth listening to. What makes it better, in a bittersweet way, is its brilliant script describing our increasingly constrained existence in the present.
Check it out. I've put in the pertinent excerpt from the script if you want to follow along.
Excerpt from the Script:
Wallace: I mean, is it just because people
are lazy today, or they're bored?
I mean, are we just
like bored, spoiled children...
who've just been lying
in the bathtub all day...
just playing with their plastic duck...
and now they're just thinking,
"Well, what can I do?"
Andre: Okay. Yes. We're bored.
We're all bored now.
But has it ever occurred to you, Wally,
that the process...
that creates this boredom
that we see in the world now...
may very well be a self-perpetuating,
unconscious form of brainwashing...
created by a world totalitarian government
based on money...
and that all of this is much more dangerous
than one thinks...
and it's not just a question
of individual survival, Wally...
but that somebody who's bored
and somebody who's asleep
will not say no?
See, I keep meeting these people...
I mean, just a few days ago...
I met this man whom I greatly admire.
He's a Swedish physicist.
And he told me that he
no longer watches television...
he doesn't read newspapers,
and he doesn't read magazines.
cut them out of his life...
because he really does feel that we're living
in some kind of Orwellian nightmare now...
and that everything that you hear now
contributes to turning you into a robot.
And when i was at Findhorn, i met
this extraordinary English tree expert...
who had devoted his life
to saving trees.
Just got back from Washington,
lobbying to save the redwoods.
He's 84 years old,
and he always travels with a backpack...
'cause he never knows
where he's gonna be tomorrow.
And when I met him at Findhorn,
he said to me, "Where are you from?"
I said, "New York." He said, "Ah, New York.
Yes, that's a very interesting place.
Do you know a lot of New Yorkers who keep talking about
the fact that they want to leave, but never do?"
And I said, "Oh,yes." And he said,
"Why do you think they don't leave?"
I gave him different banal theories.
He said, "Oh, I don't think it's that way at all."
He said, "I think that New York is the new
model for the new concentration camp...
...where the camp has been built
by the inmates themselves...
...and the inmates are the guards, and they
have this pride in this thing they've built.
...They've built their own prison.
...And so they exist
in a state of schizophrenia...
...where they are both guards
...And as a result, they no longer have,
having been lobotomized...
...the capacity to leave
the prison they've made...
...or to even see it as a prison."
And then he went into his pocket,
and he took out a seed for a tree...
and he said, "This is a pine tree."
He put it in my hand and he said,
"Escape before it's too late."
for two or three years now...
Chiquita and I have had this very unpleasant
feeling that we really should get out.
We really feel like Jews in Germany
in the late '30s.
Get out of here.
Of course, the problem is
where to go.
'Cause it seems quite obvious that the
whole world is going in the same direction.
See, I think it's quite possible
that the 1960s...
represented the last burst of the human being
before he was extinguished...
and that this is the beginning
of the rest of the future, now...
and that from now on there'll simply be
all these robots walking around...
feeling nothing, thinking nothing.
And there'll be nobody left almost
to remind them...
that there once was a species
called a human being...
with feelings and thoughts...
and that history and memory
are right now being erased...
and soon nobody
will really remember...
that life existed on the planet.