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|At the Movies - Page 4|
I stared at the illustration on the cover of the book as if I might possibly find some clues there. Did seeing The Razor's Edge "cause" my life? Did it plant a seed where nothing else was? Certainly, just the circumstances under which I'd seen it—the special, once-in-a-lifetime-like aura of that night—would have made the experience extraordinary. But the rush of feeling that coursed through me as I stood at the book stall leafing through the pages of the novel suggested that it was more than that: something unbelievably powerful had happened to me almost a half-century earlier, which, until that moment, had remained buried, hidden in plain sight.
Up until The Razor's Edge, movies had performed a twofold function for me. First, they were entertainment, pure and simple—a mode of escape, a source of excitement and delight. Then, beneath their entertaining surfaces, movies doubled as schools (especially on nonschool nights). Starring role models whose choices taught what consequences flowed from what actions, movies were primers on morals and behavior, parables of how to live, how to be a "man"—how to stand up for something, withstand threats, be graceful, loving, decent, tough, strong, fearless, funny. The godlike stars—John Wayne and Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and, yes, even Tyrone Power—were guides, teachers, yet the characters they played remained as flawed as any mortal. The travails they underwent not only amused, they educated me.
But this little-known Grade-B movie with Tyrone Power had unexpectedly introduced a dimension both richer and deeper: cosmic mystery. Most movies presented a character undergoing some crisis that, by film's end, was resolved: the villain defeated, the woman won; The Razor's Edge presented something new, an open-ended paradox. It told me there is no resolution, no happy ending, to being alive. Our unending challenge is to pursue an end that's always unattainable. Seeing that open-endedness depicted on screen for the first time was nothing short of thrilling.
So, Larry Darrell's search for something spiritually meaningful wasn't all that the movie had instilled in me. No, the very experience of watching the movie had itself initiated, I realized, a second lifelong search—for other movies that might duplicate its magic. It inspired me to go down a path seeking something special, not only in life, but also in the movies. Life, as I'd seen it played out by Tyrone Power, was far more complicated than I'd thought. It had far more complexity to it than even the glamour and adventure and grace and humor the movies generally pictured it as having. And suddenly, the movies, too, were filled with new possibility. With my 10-year-old mouth opened wide, watching Larry's search for something ineffable in life, I was simultaneously embarking on a lifelong search for something ineffable in the movies.
Paperback in hand, I paused.
Had the movie really done all that? Is that what really happened?
I shook my head and corrected myself. No, The Razor's Edge hadn't initiated a quest, it had validated one. It validated me, a part of me I hadn't known was there, a part already yearning, hoping, that there really was more out there to be bowled over by. The 10-year-old kid on the carpet expectantly staring up at the TV was, I understood, astonishingly enough, already Larry Darrell.
And so, for decades now, I'd been returning to the cinematic well, over and over and over, longing for another sip of the elixir I'd first tasted back then, looking for an answer to a question I couldn't articulate, something that would shake up and completely alter my sense of the world. Something that would not only entertain me, but change me. I wanted another totally unexpected cinematic transformation, another hit of transcendence. Another moment when life's mysteries and secrets are captured on film, laid bare, made visible, yet still remain mysterious.
Ever since, I've kept going back to the movies, as if on a treadmill I can't jump off, looking for the kind of chest-opening, mind- and spirit-expanding high I got that night. And the movies keep coming, an endless, too-often soul-deadening cascade, like the waves of commercials that flooded the airwaves during those distant nights I spent movie-watching as a kid. The longer the search continues, the less frequently the magic recurs. Out of habit and hope, I persist. And every so often—not often enough, but sometimes still—I'm mesmerized.
Fred Wistow lives in New York City. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at email@example.com, or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.