Friday, October 10, 2008

Woman in the Dunes:
My Little Cake of Madelaine

The Buce household witnessed a screening last night of Woman in the Dunes. Remember Woman in the Dunes? That's the one of the bug-catcher who stumbles—he only dimly understands how—into life. He finds himself bound to the company of the mysterious woman who needs help with the shoveling, shoveling, shoveling, so she can just stay even He doesn't know how he got here, and he really doesn't know how to get out: he tries scratching his way up the wall; he appeals for help to indifferent strangers; he actually does scratch way out of the pit just once, but he is harried and run to ground and at last finds himself back where he began. True he does get some food, and cigarettes, and booze, and there even was the chance for a bit of sex, but mainly it's shoveling, shoveling, he does not know why.

You remember yet? Boy, I did. I first saw it when I was 28 (I had thought I was younger, but it wasn't released until 1964), and I had never seen a movie that engaged me so powerfully and directly. Review the bidding: I was in a rocky marriage, in a job that I liked well enough, but which I wasn't terribly good at., and where the pay was execrable. I knew if I threw in my hand, I would lose every dime—and anyway, I didn't want to leave: I adored my kids and I just wanted to lead a life that was decent, civilized and simple. And as to how to go about it—I didn't have a clue.

Of course it couldn't affect me the same way a second time. Forty-six years have passed; now my kids have kids, and so many things are going right in my life I can barely keep score (I still don't much understand the world, but I've learned to live with that).

But here's the a scandalous secret: on the whole, those years went pretty well. As an adolescent, I was pretty much of an oversized infant. Like most guys of my time, I knew that if I wanted to get laid, I would pretty much have to get married, and if I got married, I would have to support my family or else, let me see here—ah yes, or else go to jail. Introduction to adulthood, in short, was for me abrupt, sharp and fairly brutal (might also be “civilizing influence of a good woman,” but I'm not sure I'm ready to go there).

And that's the point: men respond well to challenges. You hit them over the head with some inescapable responsibility, they tend to rise to the occasion: to steady up, to go to work, and to begin to make a life. Just like the guy in the dunes.

The movie kind of dribbles out in the end—too many themes, the director can't figure quite which way to go. That's fine, lots of good movies (and novels) dribble out at the end. Still, as a metaphor for my youth, it still rings pretty true. But a final question: in an age when young men (except the minuscule number who go into the military) are pretty much surplus, exactly what i the metaphor? In an age where there isn't much for them to do except wear torn underwear and drink milk out of a carton, how will they ever grow up?

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