Like most people, I haven’t gotten to a movie theatre much in the past few years. Covid, of course. But also, because I’ve invested in streaming services. My favorite is HBOMax, which seems to have a good variety of series and movies. Just about any entertainment itch I get can be scratched at HBOMax. I have Netflix, but just as I’m ready to unsubscribe they come up with something I have to see. I also subscribe to Masterclass and National Theatre at Home. Both worth the time and money.
But there have been a couple of movies that I felt required being seen on a full-sized movie screen to be fully appreciated. I broke my movie fast with Cruella, and it was everything I needed it to be - silly, over the top eye candy.
And last weekend I went out to see Babylon. It’s messy and way too long, but there’s a lot to digest in it. Frankly, I’d rather sit through three hours of a movie that has something to say, even if it’s not sure what or how to say it than I would ninety minutes of CGI global destruction.
There’s a scene in Babylon that I found particularly intriguing. Jean Smart plays a soulless Hollywood gossip to Brad Pitt’s fading silent movie star. She’s written something particularly snide about him, and he confronts her. The scene is an oasis of quiet honesty that, in my opinion, justifies the desert of excess it blossoms in.
Smart tells Pitt that Hollywood isn’t personal. The demise of his career isn’t because of anything anyone has done and couldn’t be stopped by anyone might do. The page has simply turned. This time of his life has ended, and the smart thing was to see the bigger picture, accept that things have changed and move on. Pitt’s character of course can see nothing but a void ahead of him.
It’s a scene that is going to resonate very differently among people of different generations. It’s some of the best cinematic writing in years because Pitt hears only what Smart says. And on that level, the scene is gratifying. It’s poetic and makes sense. But he completely misses what she means.
Smart’s character is a generation older than Pitt’s and speaking from experience, she’s thriving. Her message isn’t to succumb to the winds of time, accept the changes inflicted upon us. If all you're doing is listening to the words that are coming out of her mouth, that may be the logical conclusion to be reached by what she says. But if you look at who is saying it, the message isn't one of acquiescence. Smart's message is one of renewal, to take what comes next as a challenge and find a way to thrive with whatever is coming next. Success is not trying to repeat the previous eras of one's life, it's having the courage to explore what the new era has to offer and build on that.
I don’t know how or why we’re conditioned to believe that our thirties are the pinnacle of life. They are the prime childbearing/rearing years, but is that all there is? Once a child has reached adulthood, are the parent’s lives to be nothing more than free babysitting and remembering the good old days? Does being childless means a person’s life has been wasted?
I recently turned sixty. A friend reached out to me on my birthday to see how I was doing. I was and am fine. Youth had never really been much of an asset to me. Yes, I’m aware of the clock speeding up and all that means, but there’s a clarity I’ve never had before. There’s an ability to identify clutter and dross that I didn’t have even ten years ago, and the strength to deal with it expeditiously and mercilessly. It’s not that I no longer have patience for the bullshit of youth, I’m not even interested enough to be impatient with it.
I may never write the great play I want to write. I may never convince anyone other than my most dearly beloved that anything I create has any value. This realization comes as a small disappointment, but not as crushing as it might have just a few years ago. I enjoy the process of writing. It feels good to be able to type “End of Play,” and mean it. Does that also mean I have given up on having any/all of my plays produced? Absolutely not. It does mean I’ve recognized that the value of the things I write doesn’t lie in someone else’s view of their producibility.
When we’re in a particular era of our lives, none of us can know what that era holds. Age has a tendency to inspire fear. We don't know how or when we're going to get there, but we all know that the end is coming. It’s only when we resign ourselves to what others say it should be, when we build our lives around a prescribed description of what the later eras should look like, that we allow -acquiesce - to the notion that one of the previous eras had to be the pinnacle of our lives. I may not have as much money, or the ability to make as much money as I did before. I may not be able to go to the gym twice a day and score free drinks in a bar like I once could. Those things belong to the past. That doesn't mean the future is only and exclusively physical and mental decay. It may mean that the benefits are not apparent and may never be apparent to anyone other than the person who is living that era.
If writing plays for only myself looks like a decline from the outside, I don’t care. Writing these plays feeds something on the inside, delights my soul – to put it into pompous terms. And the fact that that's enough for me is enough for me.