The following involves theft of a passage from C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy:
I’m distrustful of my imagination, its shape, flora, and fauna, because it’s been gardened by mass culture. My first intense aesthetic experiences focused strongly on movies, and I’ll now try to record them. The thing has been much better done by Traherne and Wordsworth and Lewis, but every man must tell his own tale.
The first is the memory of a movie. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there arose in me without warning, as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the thought that I would never meet the boy who played Nick Szalinski in Disney’s Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Or if I did meet him, if I somehow made it to LA much later in life and our paths crossed, he would have advanced much past his prime. I realized that a bid at friendship with this boy was unrealizable.
The thought that I had a want that could not be gratified, energized that simple feeling beyond what it could bear. It was like hooking up an RC car to a Die-Hard battery.
The source of the desire to meet the actor never became more clear to me—but the notion that the desire could not be fulfilled overloaded it, threatened to melt it down into glowing plastic.
It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to enormous) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but of desire for what? Not, certainly, a desire to spend time with a kid from LA, nor even (though that came into it) to graze celebrity—and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself drained away, the whole glimpse faded, the world flattened out again, except it was now bent by a longing for the longing which had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and from one angle, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids turned everything else I’d ever experienced insignificant by comparison.
The second glimpse came through another movie, The Mighty Ducks; through it only, though I loved all Emilio Estevez’ work. But his other movies were merely entertaining; this one administered the shock, it was a trouble. One moment in particular summoned the trouble—at the end of the movie, the flying V having flown, Charlie having triple-deked the opposing goalie, the game won, Connie Moreau (to call her the token female on the team is perhaps aggrandizing) kisses Guy Germaine. It’s a serious kiss, presented as an overflow of camaraderie and team spirit, but, like the single cockroach sighted, representative of more and murkier possibilities. It is the erotic tip of the iceberg.
But its presentation—the camera has not singled them out, they are not the focal point of the shot—made it a side-point, a detail you might only catch on repeated viewings. My sister and I caught it on our second viewing, exchanged a look of wait-a-second, and rewound it several, if not a dozen, times.
This moment troubled me with the idea of impossible love. Let me clarify what I mean by impossible love. I don’t mean it in a “my father’s a veterinarian, your father believes we should destroy animals in a merciless battle of the species—our love is doomed” kind of way, except by analogy. I mean that I was struck by the fact that their relationship existed only in fiction. By investing in their relationship, I was invested in a thing as invented as a shrink ray.
It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamoured of a kiss between two barely pubescent actors, but that is something like what happened; and, as before, the experience was one of intense desire. The desire was not strictly a desire for participation, compelling as Connie may have been. It was first a desire for information, to know more about a relationship on which the movie spent no exposition. Attending that was also a concern for their fraught position. At most they’re 15-years old. Could they last until a marriageable age? Winning a hockey championship for Coach Bombay was thin stuff to build a life on.
But within this complex of desires are two more, which are related. I think that this moment worked on me, narratively, the way that the Grecian urn worked on Keats. “Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,” presses on the same sore tooth that watching Connie kiss Guy does. The moment of the kiss is sandwiched between some hand-holding, and the abrupt end of the movie. I re-watched it to achieve a stasis, where the fact of the kiss is known and frozen, after the bond between them is just hinted at, and before the pair are shuttled off into an uncertain future. Because the moment is glancing and incorporeal, I strongly desired that it be enfleshed, or captured and made still. That desire for stasis is the first of this subset.
Second, as with Nick Szalinski, I was also aware of the actors as participants in an artifice. This is a further refraction of that Keatsian idea. Not only was that moment I fixated on glimpsed as a kind of stasis, it was utterly fictional, as unreal as the unravish’d bride painted in black slip on the urn. Think of Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, that painting of the pipe with text which translates to English as, “This is not a pipe.” The moment of that kiss in the movie could have been underscored by the text, “This is not a relationship.” But for whatever reason, I wanted it to be a real relationship, and the fact that it wasn’t got to me and summoned up that longing.
One went back to that moment in the film not to gratify the desire but to reawake it. And in this experience also there was the same surprise and the same sense of incalculable importance.
The artifice refracted the stasis, making the moment completely unattainable. Not only did the moment barely exist in the film, it barely existed at all. It was already a wisp, but because it came through fiction, it was the wisp of a wisp. Because it inhabited a place between existence and non-existence it was beyond existence. It was eternal. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something in another dimension.
It’s possible to find cracks almost anywhere through which you can view the beyond—by which I mean the eternal, the divine, God.
Image by Gabe Stevenson