When art reflect life, sometimes it hurts to watch


The question about why one goes to the movies — hoping for what? — has perhaps never been in the dock more than in the case of “Amour,” which my wife Lacey and I went to see last week.

Good thing it was Lacey’s idea, not mine, because after those two grueling hours she would have beaten me up about putting her through that.

You likely know: an older couple, living in urban sophistication in Paris. Funny, self-effacing, resilient people, the sort I might hope we’d be (until I realize we’re only a little younger; the die is long cast). Then the unthinkable: she suffers a stroke.

It begins with a brief moment of global amnesia, in which she checks out mentally.

He panics, tries to rouse her.

She returns to seemingly full awareness and makes light of it.

The ominous unfolding, certain to come, made me feel I had to decide whether to leave, or commit to staying with this admirable couple as everything admirable about them gave way to degradation and despair.

It was the bravest, most disciplined acting I think I have ever seen. For the rest of the evening Lacey and I carried on a restrained, intense, conversation about whether we were glad to have seen it, or wished we hadn’t.

We go to movies only a handful of times a year. We get two Netflix a month through the mail, never ones we know have gratuitous violence, which eliminates most of the popular ones.

Though we have a TV set to watch Netflix movies, we have no TV reception, so we haven’t been conditioned to the rawness that I know is routine now.

Neither have I become accustomed to animation, which I still associate with children’s cartoons. I did see “Avatar” in 3-D, and was dazzled.

There are two movies that are iconic for me (and now, with “Amour,” three).

“Contempt,” made by Jean Luc Godard in 1952, starred Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance (!) It made sport of the filmmaking of Fritz Lang, who appears in a cameo. I learned of it after seeing a remarkable house (Casa Malaparte) while hiking on Capri. The house is sited on a rock in the ocean. When I investigated I discovered several scenes in “Contempt” were filmed in that house. I ordered a print from Amazon.

I still watch it once a year, when everyone else in my family is away. Some critics call it the most important film made since W.W. II. My family calls it the most boring movie ever made. It’s like watching Al Gore run for president. You have to do all the heavy lifting, which, for me, is well worth it (and not only because Brigitte Bardot disrobes).

The other is “The Big Lebowski.”

Though a cult classic, I’m the only one in my family to have joined the cult. I must have seen it 30 times. Each time it seems funnier, more brilliant than the last.

“Amour” was like having my innards torn out, one organ at a time. I was spellbound, and found it nearly unbearable. I wonder if it would have had such an impact on me a decade earlier?

I tell myself it’s the quality of the movie. How well made and acted. Lacey — and others — say I seek out painful reality. I thought “Amour,” and the two superb (old) actors, unimaginably brave, portraying one horrifying version of what we’ll each face.

Escape? Entertainment? Artistic quality? Voyeurism? Thrill-seeking?

Emotions fully, unmanageably, reluctantly engaged.