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|At the Movies - Page 3|
Did I care?
Not for a second.
No matter how silly it all seemed, I was enchanted—almost instantly, in fact. In the opening scene, arriving at an outdoor party at Uncle Elliott's country club, Larry enters the frame in the distance. As he walks straight toward the camera, scanning the crowd for Isabel, the party sounds that have been filling the soundtrack suddenly go mute, dramatically heightening the effect of Maugham's voiceover narration. "This is the young man of whom I write," he informs us, as if we're reading a book. Then, in a voice reflecting his own bemusement, Maugham mysteriously continues: while this young man may ultimately leave no trace of his "sojourn on this earth," yet, because of the "way of life that he has chosen," he may one day be recognized as having been a "most remarkable creature."
By the time Maugham was done introducing Larry, speaking directly to the audience, to us—to me—I was in a trance, one from which I wouldn't awaken for many decades.
I keenly remember my fogginess whenever a scene clumsily attempted to deal with Larry's strange search for something "spiritual," a premise for a movie unlike any other I'd ever seen. I knew something important was being discussed, but I simply couldn't understand it. My confusion was not unlike that which confronted me whenever during a Western, for example, a love scene inevitably intruded. As hero began to kiss love interest, I'd zone out, as if the screen had just gone totally blank. Some part of me knew that one day I'd understand what was going on between that man and that woman (though I'm not sure I ever have). Until that day might come, however, I couldn't care less: a love scene was nothing more than a puzzling sort of downtime, something to be endured until a movie's real action resumed. But while the quest scenes in The Razor's Edge were just as disorienting and unintelligible, they didn't feel like downtime. I didn't zone out from lack of interest. Quite the reverse. I was fascinated—by Larry's dogged pursuit of whatever it was he was pursuing, by the pomposity with which it was talked about; fascinated even by my very own confusion. Head on hands, a foot-and-a-half now from the hypnotic glow, I couldn't keep my eyes away from the TV. I didn't know what the hell was going on and hoped one day I might.
Eleven years ago, at 49, sick of my job as a lawyer and how I felt doing it, I quit. "Retired." By the time a year or two had passed and I'd traveled to a good many places around the world, I awoke to discover, to my amazement, that without any planning or design on my part, my main activity in life—in a way, my mission, as presumptuous as that may sound—had become that of pro bono coach-shrink-advisor-rabbi-editor-career counselor-what-have-you to whoever walked through my metaphorical door. My new vocation—my nickname: Brother Theresa—wasn't entirely surprising: I'd been an attorney for most of my adult life and my mother's therapist from even before I could talk. What did come as something of a shock, though, was the variety of ages, occupations, and problems presented by my "clients."
A year or two into my new career, I had an epiphany at a strange location: a used-book stall at a street fair. As I scanned a row of musty paperbacks, one title cried out—The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham—and my knees literally buckled. I'd seen the movie a few times over the intervening decades with little effect—some mild nostalgia for the night I first saw it and a knowing yet fond condescension toward its clunkiness—but the waves of shock now running through my limbs made me realize that some secret I'd long kept from myself was at last surfacing:
On that long-ago Saturday night, as I lay there watching some movie from 1946 that I'd never heard of, without my being aware of it, I was being given the playbook for my life. Somehow I'd absorbed the movie's subtext: "Go off and seek—and keep seeking—something that you can't name that will help you make sense of the world." One way or another, I'd been obeying that message as if it had been a hypnotic command. All those years of lawyering had been nothing but a lengthy detour until the day would come when I, Larry Darrell the Second, would finally drop out and assume my true identity: professional loafer and freelance Good Samaritan. All that had been laid out for me by a movie I'd seen when I was 10 years old.