Many years ago I saw Louis Malle’s movie ‘My Dinner with Andre.’ The whole movie does indeed take place over dinner, more or less in real time, and it’s all talk. Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn talk to each other about their lives. It’s a very Sixties’ movie made in the Eighties. Andre has lots in life, but is dissatisfied, searching for some sort of meaning, and he hasn’t quite found what he wants, and he knows he’s being self-indulgent. Wally has much less, but is happy with what he has. As he says, he’s overjoyed if the cold cup of coffee he left on the table last night doesn’t have a roach in it by mornng, so he can drink it. When I first saw it, I was kind of miserable about the work I was doing, and the movie cheered me up quite startlingly by giving me this sense of possibility and imagination.
A few nights ago I stumbled onto the movie again on of the Showtime channels. I got irritated at the beginning it’s the Oh’s now, not the Sixties, and some of it was corny and dated. But, in the end, its good intentions, its imagination and the depiction thereof grew on me. The two protagonists, though they both have artistic aspirations, have almost diametrically opposite views of life: Andre’s a mystic manque looking to avoid scientific narrowness, and Wally’s a pragmatist who thinks it’s great that science has ruled out so much non-sense talk, even though he knows little about science. But Andre and Wally communicate in a way that rewards them both.
Louis Malle, in addition to ‘Atlantic City, ‘Lacombe, Lucien,’ ‘The Lovers,’ and a host of other good movies, also made another Andre Gregory-Wallace Shawn movie called ‘Vanya on 42nd Street,’ a reading of ‘Uncle Vanya’ in a theater on 42nd Street, which was quite mysterious. Despite it being a film of a play reading rather than a play, with no costumes or sets, it was very moving. I went to see it a second time years ago, and it moved me just as much.
I found the screenplay of ‘Andre’ on the internet, and here are a few lines from near the end. I like the part about work being sacramental. ______________________________________________________________________________
ANDRE: Just as you have to ask about the sacramental element in your work: is it still there? I mean, it’s a very frightening thing, Wally, to have to suddenly realize that my God! I thought I was living my life, but in fact I haven’t been a human being! I’ve been a performer! I haven’t been living, I’ve been acting! I’ve acted the role of a father, I’ve acted the role of the husband, I’ve acted the role of the friend, I’ve acted the role of the writer, director, what have you. I’ve lived in the same room with this person but I haven’t really seen them. I haven’t really heard them. I haven’t really been with them.
Well, have a real relationship with a person that goes on for years, that’s completely unpredictable. Then you’ve cut off all your ties to the land and you’re sailing into the unknown, into uncharted seas. I mean, you know, people hold on to these images: father, mother, husband, wife, again for the same reason: ’cause they seem to provide some firm ground. What does that mean, a wife? A husband? A son? A baby holds your hands and then suddenly there’s this huge man lifting you off the ground, Where’s that son?