Troy Jollimore

The Adventure

There will never be a complete catalog of varieties
of human happiness, human desire, or human cruelty.
Of happiness, we can say that it is by its nature
unrepeatable. The thrill is that it happens only once.
A performance, like the first taste of chocolate or
a first kiss, cannot be preserved or repeated.
At most we can hope for certain evidence
that the event occurred: photographs, recordings, rumors,
recollections that fade and grow steadily less
reliable with each passing year, none of which
come at all close to replicating the experience
of really being there. The movies, though, are timeless:
no viewing is privileged, no viewing comes closer
than any other viewing to being a genuinely
“true” or “real” experience (whatever, in this context,
true or real might mean), and there is therefore
no way to attach to a film a precise date
and time. There is only the time when you saw it,
and how it moved you then, how it changed you. Yet films are,
if anything, even more poignant in the way
they remind us of what has been lost and what we cannot
recover, if only because the illusion
is that they bring us so much closer to it
in the act of watching, and because that illusion
persists so much longer. Repeatable? Sure.
But the actors have all passed away, or eventually
will; the objects, if they were real to begin with,
have all been destroyed, or at some point they will be;
the very landscapes and places in which
the characters are placed and carry on their affairs
have, if they weren’t simply constructed sets
from the start, been altered by the passage of time,
most likely not for the better, in the years
since the film crew planted their camera and captured
their footage. The alluring sadness, for instance,
visible in the eyes of Lea Massari
in Antonioni’s L’Avventura
in the scenes that take place just before she disappears—
she is feeling a distance from her lover, Sandro,
for reasons we, the viewers, can sense but can’t quite
get inside, and which we find all the more compelling
for our very failure to quite get inside them—
reminds us that that world, that Italy, that cinematic
moment, have vanished; even though it is there,
in front of our eyes, larger, as we sometimes say,
than life, it is in fact as finally and irrevocably
gone as is Massari’s character, Anna,
who disappears from the film without explanation.

Which brings us back to cruelty. It is perhaps
the cruelty of the world, or perhaps just the cruelty
of art, which depicts and pretends to preserve
the world, to keep this vanishing constantly in view,
and at the same time gives us the illusion
that it can be avoided, defeated, overcome,
each image returned to without limitation,
resurrected any number of times for our own
reassurance and enjoyment, the film replayed
and replayed, the PAUSE button always at the ready
if we want to contemplate, at our leisure, the barren,
virtually inhuman landscapes, or Sandro’s magnificent
indifference, or Monica Vitti’s face,
which always reminds me a little of the face
of the first woman I made love to, which happened
around the time I first saw L’Avventura,
that first viewing still the most profound, the most shocking,
as if I had discovered a new and unanticipated
version of myself. I suppose the fantasy
is that no one ever needs to die,
that everything that happens survives somewhere,
if not as an object then as an image
or a thought, a strip of celluloid, or a matrix
of digitized information on a hard drive
stored in an underground vault underneath
the New Mexican desert. Or, if not that,
then in the sentimental fragmentary conversations
of people who, for as long as they can manage,
until advancing time gets the better of them,
gather to relive and recollect their chosen slices
of the past. After that first time, I walked home
and, as I recall, the moon was full. What was it
I’d located in myself? An unrecognized capacity
for greed? For brutal passion? I had always
desired the pleasures life offered, but in
moderation; now I wanted them excessively, I wanted
life itself, and also my desire for it, to be
excessive, as if—it was a ten-minute walk
back to my parents’ house, and because the night
was frigid, the air was clear like music, Chopin
or Satie, precise and far away, and the stars
were tiny distant torches looking down—as if
I’d be protected if I made myself someone whose desire
refused to concede any limit, as if I
could be safe and free and live forever if only
I could empty myself, leaving nothing but an ache
that ached to be filled, to be resolved, to find a way to be
pure hunger, absolute. To be nothing but hunger.