July 25, 2009

Andre and Wally discuss modern world over dinner

I liked this movie: My Dinner with Andre. Watched it for the second time yesterday. With the same pleasant languor as when I first saw it. This blog review (& the 2 part of it) made me watch it. I couldn’t hold myself back after reading it. I had to know if a movie like this could really work. I mean, a 2 hour long movie with just 2 actors (rest are almost like extras) and entirely consisting of dinner table conversation!

Downloaded the whole movie from youtube (in 13 parts), and later attached the separate parts as one single file through Windows Movie Maker. This isn’t a “visually” appealing movie, it’s more like a movie for the ear than the eye; so don’t have to worry about the youtube quality.

I think the movie works primarily because it allows you to participate. I mean, I am not saying you actually get to dine with them guys (:P), but you feel as if you are just there, as if you are a mute listener sitting with them at that very dining-table. No obligation to talk. Sometimes Andre talks for you, and sometimes Wally. You may either empathize with their conversation, or dismiss it; it doesn’t matter. All you gotta do is, just sit there and listen.

Since I already concluded that the profound art of Talking is one thing that I will never be able to learn, I am trying instead to nurture the listener in me. I think I am getting good at it too. People are talking in my presence. I am making them talk. I am becoming so preoccupied with this newly acquired skill of mine, that all I wanna do now is to listen. Never talk. Never let myself out. Never give the chilly fog in me a chance to evaporate. Listen. Listen. And listen. So this movie is like a treat for me. These guys talk, talk and talk. About modern life mostly; about how to peel the unnecessary pulp off our existence, and the need for it; about how we are not living our lives true to our instincts but instead performing some self-imposed or societally-imposed superficial characterizations… etc.

So, all the empty souls out there with nothing to talk, but starving to listen, this movie is for you. I found the total transcript here. Giving an excerpt of the conversation below, the part that I liked most.

* * * * * *
Crux of the whole matter: Just cut out all the noise and stop performing all the time and just listen to what is inside you.
ANDRE: Yeah. But those are typical evenings for us. I mean, we go to dinners, and parties like that all the time. These evenings are really like sort of sickly dreams, because people are talking in symbols. Everyone's sort of floating through this fog of symbols and unconscious feelings. No one says what they're really thinking about. Then people start making these jokes that are really some sort of secret code!

WALLY: Right! Well, what often happens at some of these evenings is that these really crazy little fantasies will just start being played with, you know, and everybody will be talking at once, and sort of saying: "Hey, wouldn't it be great if Frank Sinatra and Mrs. Nixon and blah-blah-blah were in such-and-such a situation," you know, always with famous people and always sort of grotesque? Or people will be talking about some horrible thing like, like the death of that girl in the car with Ted Kennedy, and they'll just be roaring with laughter! I mean, it's really amazing. It's just unbelievable. That's the only way anything is expressed, through these completely insane jokes. I mean, I think that's why I never understand what's going on at a party, and I'm always completely confused. You know, Debby [his wife] once said after one of these New York evenings, she thought she'd travelled a greater distance just by journeying from her origins in the suburbs of Chicago to that New York evening, than her grandmother had travelled in making her way from the steppes of Russia to the suburbs of Chicago!

ANDRE: Well, I think that's right! You know, it may be, Wally, that one of the reasons that we don't know what's going on is that when we're there at a party, we're all too busy performing.


ANDRE: You know, that was one of the reasons that Grotowski [his friend] gave up the theater. He just felt that people in their lives now were performing so well that performance in the theater was sort of superfluous, and in a way obscene.


ANDRE: I mean, isn't it amazing how often a doctor will live up to our expectation of how a doctor should look? I mean, you see a terrorist on television: he looks just like a terrorist. I mean, we live in a world in which fathers, or single people, or artists, are all trying to live up to someone's fantasy of how a father, or a single person, or an artist, should look and behave! They all act as if they know exactly how they ought to conduct themselves at every single moment. And they all seem totally self-confident. Of course, privately people are very mixed up about themselves. They don't know what they should be doing with their lives. They're reading all these self-help books...

WALLY: Oh! God! And I mean, those books are just so touching because they show how desperately curious we all are to know how all the others of us are really getting on in life, even though by performing these roles all the time we're just hiding the reality of ourselves from everybody else. I mean, we live in such ludicrous ignorance of each other. I mean, we usually don't know the things we'd like to know even about our supposedly closest friends! I mean...I mean, you know, suppose you're going through some kind of hell in your own life, well, you would love to know if your friends have experienced similar things. But we just don't dare to ask each other!

ANDRE: No! It would be like asking your friend to drop his role.

WALLY: I mean, we just put no value at all on perceiving reality. I mean, on the contrary, this incredible emphasis that we all place now on our so-called "careers" automatically makes perceiving reality a very low priority. Because if your life is organized around trying to be successful in a career, well, it just doesn't matter what you perceive, or what you experience. You can really sort of shut your mind off for years ahead, in a way. You can sort of turn on the automatic pilot!

ANDRE: Right! Our minds are just focused on these goals and plans. Which in themselves are not reality.

WALLY: No! Goals and plans are not--I mean, they're fantasy. They're part of a dream life! I mean, you know, it always just does seem so ridiculous somehow that everybody has to have his little goal in life. I mean, it's so absurd, in a way. I mean, when you consider that it doesn't matter which one it is.

ANDRE: Right! And because people's concentration is on their goals, in their life they just live each moment by habit! Really, like the Norwegian, telling the same stories over and over again. Life becomes habitual! And it is, today! I mean, very few things happen now like that moment when Marlon Brando sent the Indian woman to accept the Oscar and everything went haywire? Things just very rarely go haywire now. And if you're just operating by habit, then you're not really living. I mean, you know, in Sanskrit the root of the verb "to be" is the same as the verb "to grow" or "to make grow."

WALLY: Hunh!

ANDRE: Do you know about Roc?

WALLY: Hunh?

ANDRE: Oh! Well! Roc was a wonderful man. And he was one of the founders of Findhorn. And he was one of Scotlan--well, he was Scotland's greatest mathematician, and he was one of the century's great mathematicians. And he prided himself on the fact that he had no fantasy life, no dream life, nothing to stand--no imaginary life, nothing to stand between him and the direct perception of mathematics. And one day, when he was in his mid-fifties, he was walking in the gardens of Edinburgh and he saw a faun! The faun was very surprised because fauns have always been able to see people, but, you know, very few people ever see them. And [Wally looks blank]...you know? Those little imaginary creatures. Not a deer.


ANDRE: You call them fauns, don't you?

WALLY: I thought a fawn was a baby deer.

ANDRE: Yeah, well, there's a deer that's called a fawn, but these are like those little...imaginary...

WALLY: Oh! The kind that Debussy, uh... [Wally makes a gesture with his hands by his head, like big ears.]

ANDRE: Right! Well. So, he got to know the faun, and then he got to know other fauns, and a series of conversations began. And more and more fauns would come out every afternoon to meet him, and he'd have talks with the fauns. And then one day after a while, when, you know, they'd really gotten to know him, they asked him if he would like to meet Pan, because Pan would like to meet him! But of course Pan was afraid of terrifying him, because he knew of the Christian misconception which portrayed Pan as an evil creature, which he's not. But Roc said he would love to meet Pan, and so they met, and Pan indirectly sent him on his way on a journey in which he met the other people who began Findhorn. But Roc used to practice certain exercises, like for instance, if he were right-handed, all today he would do everything with his left hand, all day, eating, writing, everything: opening doors, in order to break the habits of living. Because the great danger he felt for him was to fall into a trance, out of habit. He had a whole series of very simple exercises that he had invented, just to keep seeing, feeling, remembering. Because you have to learn now. It didn't use to be necessary, but today you have to learn something like: are you really hungry or are you just stuffing your face because because that's what you do, out of habit. I mean, you can afford to do it, so you do it, whether you're hungry or not. You know, if you go to the Buddhist meditation center, they make you taste each bite of your food, so it takes two hours--it's horrible--to eat your lunch! But you're conscious of the taste of your food! If you're just eating out of habit, then you don't taste the food and you're not conscious of the reality of what's happening to you. You enter the dream world again.

WALLY: Do you think maybe we live in this dream world because we do so many things every day that affect us in ways that somehow we're just not aware of? I mean, you know, I was thinking: now last Christmas, Debby [his wife] and I were given an electric blanket. Now I can tell you that it is just such a marvelous advance over our old way of life, and it is just great. But it is quite different from not having an electric blanket. And I sometimes sort of wonder, well, what is it doing to me? I mean I sort of feel I'm not sleeping quite in the same way.

ANDRE: Well no, you wouldn't be.

WALLY: I mean.... And my dreams are sort of different, and I feel a little bit different when I get up in the morning.

ANDRE: I wouldn't put an electric blanket on for anything. First, I'd be worried I might get electrocuted. No, I don't trust technology. But I mean the main thing, Wally, is that I think that that kind of comfort just separates you from reality in a very direct way.

WALLY: You mean...

ANDRE: I mean, if you don't have that electric blanket, and your apartment is cold, and you need to put on another blanket or go into the closet and pile up coats on top of the blanket you have, well then you know it's cold. And that sets up a link of things: you have compassion for the p...well, is the person next to you cold? Are there other people in the world who are cold? What a cold night! I like the cold, my God, I never realized, I don't want a blanket, it's fun being cold, I can snuggle up against you even more because it's cold! All sorts of things occur to you. Turn on that electric blanket and it's like taking a tranquilizer, it's like being lobotomized by watching television. I think you enter the dream world again. I mean, what does it do to us, Wally, living in an environment where something as massive as the seasons or winter or cold don't in any way affect us? I mean, we're animals after all. I mean, what does that mean? I think that means that instead of living under the sun and the moon and the sky and the stars we're living in a fantasy world of our own making.

WALLY: Yeah, but I mean, I would never give up my electric blanket, André. I mean, because New York is cold in the winter, I mean, our apartment is cold. It's a difficult environment! I mean, our lives are tough enough as it is, I'm not looking for ways to get rid of the few things that provide relief and comfort, I mean, on the contrary! I'm looking for more comfort, because the world is very abrasive, I mean, I'm trying to protect myself, because really there are these abrasive beatings to be avoided everywhere you look.

ANDRE: Yeah, but Wally, don't you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you like to be comfortable and I like to be comfortable, too. But comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility. I mean, my mother knew a woman, Lady Hatfield, who was one of the richest women in the world, and she died of starvation because all she would eat was chicken. I mean, she just liked chicken, Wally, and that was all she would eat, and actually, her body was starving but she didn't know it 'cause she was quite happy eating her chicken and so, she finally died! See, I honestly believe that we're all like Lady Hatfield now, we're having a lovely, comfortable time with our electric blankets and our chicken, and meanwhile we're starving because we're so cut off from contact with reality that we're not getting any real sustenance. 'Cause we don't see the world. We don't see ourselves. We don't see how our actions affect other people. Have you read Martin Buber's book on Hasidism?


ANDRE: Oh, well here's a view of life! I mean, he talks about the belief of the Hasidic Jews that there are spirits chained in everything. There are spirits chained in you, there are spirits chained in me. Well! There are spirits chained in this table! And that prayer is the action of liberating these enchained embryo-like spirits, and that every action of ours in life, whether it's doing business or making love, or having dinner together, whatever, that every action of ours should be a prayer, a sacrament in the world.

Now, do you think we're living like that? Why do you think we're not living like that? I think it's because if we allowed ourselves to see what we do every day we might just find it too nauseating. I mean, the way we treat other people. I mean, you know, every day, several times a day, I walk into my apartment building, the doorman calls me Mr. Gregory and I call him Jimmy. All right, what's the difference between that and the southern plantation owner whose got slaves? You see, I think that an act of murder is committed in that moment when I walk into that building. You know, because here's a dignified, intelligent man, a man of my own age, and when I call him Jimmy then he becomes a child and I'm an adult because I can buy my way into the building!

WALLY: Right. That's right. I mean, my God! When I was a Latin teacher, I mean, people used to treat me, I mean, you know, if I would go to a party of professional or "literary" people, I mean, I was just treated, in the nicest sense of the word, like a dog! I mean, in other words, there was no question of my being able to participate on an equal basis in the conversation with people. I mean, you know, I'd occasionally have conversations with people, but then when they asked what I did, which would always happen after about five minutes, you know, their faces--I mean, even if they were enjoying the conversation, or they were flirting with me or whatever it was, you know, their faces would just have that expression just like the portcullis crashing down, you know, those medieval gates? They would just walk away! I mean, I literally lived like a dog. And I mean, when Debby was working as a secretary, you know, if she would tell people what she did, they would just go insane! I mean, it would be just as if she'd said: "Oh, well! I've been serving a life sentence recently for child murdering!"

I mean, my God, you know, when you talk about our attitudes toward other people. I mean, I think of myself as just a very decent, good person, you know, just because I think I'm reasonably friendly to most of the people I happen to meet every day. I mean, I really think of myself quite smugly. I just think I'm a perfectly nice guy, you know, so long as I think of the world as consisting of, you know, just the small circle of the people that I know as friends or the few people that we know in this little world of our little hobbies, the theater or whatever it is. And I'm really quite self-satisfied. I'm just quite happy with myself. I just have no complaint about myself. I mean, you know, let's face it, I mean, there's a whole enormous world out there that I just don't ever think about. And I certainly don't take responsibility for how I've lived in that world. I mean, you know, if I were to actually sort of confront the fact that I'm sort of sharing this stage with this starving person in Africa somewhere, well, I wouldn't feel so great about myself. So naturally I just blot all those people right out of my perception. So, of course, of course, I'm ignoring a whole section of the real world!



  1. intha akkuva raaste ala chadavalira

  2. అదంతా నేను రాసింది కాదుబే...