Sunday, December 22, 2013

"I reap the rewards of solitude," and other Prince Avalanche thoughts

I watched David Gordon Green's stunning return to form, Prince Avalanche, on the night of my last day without either my wife or my son at home with me.

I've had dozens of these days since coming to Australia -- just about four dozen, actually -- but Thursday was the last.

Thursday was my wife's final day at work before maternity leave. Now she'll be home every day until the end of April, and my son will be home every day between the 24th and the 15th of January. I suppose it's possible I could have more solo days if I somehow don't manage to get a job before the end of April, and my wife goes back to work before I do. However, that would kind of be the ruin of our family, so even someone who enjoys solitude as I do can't root for that. And even then, a member of our family who isn't even here yet would be home with me.

So this was really it.

It was an appropriate viewing, then, as it deals with two men in 1988 Texas, played by Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, who are alone in their own ways, even when they are together. Rudd's character, the one who claims "I reap the rewards of solitude," even has two days on his own in this film to kick around in the fire-scarred Texas landscape that he and his partner are helping rehabilitate. During those two days, he cooks a rabbit, takes some prescription pain medication, and lies in a hammock.

Sounds pretty good to me.

Of course, the movie is not so simple as to prescribe either solitude or connection to any one person -- it hovers somewhere between those states in the many fertile ideas it tackles. But it did get me thinking about how I envy people who have the time, the space, and the freedom from responsibilities to do the things they want to do, regardless of whether those things are productive or representative of any personal progress as human beings.

I had that until Thursday. Now it's gone.

Which made me lament a little bit how poorly I've used my time. I had about 48 days to do with as I pleased, but I feel like I frittered them away. Sure, not every day was totally mine. I had to do the shopping, I had to run the laundry, I had to watch the entirety of the Red Sox' championship run, I had to apply for Australian residency, I had to take care of loose ends back in the United States. And of course I had to watch a lot of movies, which I did -- though even there I feel like I should have been able to do more. For example, I only re-watched two films during those days I had to myself. This was supposed to be my time to reacquaint myself with some of my favorites, but I didn't.

The reasons I didn't fulfill the promise of those open days are many, and not all worth going into. But let's just say there was always a fair amount of guilt, guilt that weighed on me and kept me from really reaping solitude's rewards. Sure, I couldn't legally work until November 22nd anyway, but if it wasn't guilt over not working, it was guilt over the state in which I left my old house in Los Angeles (a friend had to finish up for a good six hours a couple days after I left). Or guilt over failing to decide the next step in my career. Or guilt over not reading a couple scripts a friend had asked me to read. Or guilt over the fact that I wasn't taking Melbourne in, in one of my few truly free times to do so.

It occurs to me that times like this, when we have our solitude and imagine all the ways we will use it, are never quite as satisfying as we think they'll be. Even on those occasions back in Los Angeles when I got extended periods to myself -- staying over by myself in a hotel, or cleaning out the house for three weeks before departing for Australia -- it was always impossible to reap the rewards of solitude as much as I liked. Instead of the six films I imagined I'd watch, I watched three. Instead of writing three blog posts, I'd write one. Instead of taking a nap in our hammock, I wouldn't at all.

Time flies away from us so quickly. So very, very quickly.

I'm not sure the ways Prince Avalanche directly addresses that reality, but there was something so sublime and melancholic about it that it definitely addressed it indirectly. I guess that's the case with any excellent film; it causes you to more deeply ponder whatever is most troubling you, most holding your mind captive.

Jobs I want to know about

If David Gordon Green had no other reason for writing Prince Avalanche, one that would be okay in my book would be to show us what's involved in road maintenance.

That's right, I like a movie that tells me about a job I know nothing about.

Like, for example, I'm sure you know that there are machines that paint yellow lines on roads at regular intervals, just the correct length before letting up and preparing for the next one. But did you know that those yellow raised bumps, the ones that notify you if you're drifting off and changing lanes, are affixed with some kind of cement-like putty?

I'm being a bit funny here, but it's true that I do enjoy a movie that elucidates a certain career field for me -- even if that career field involves as banal activities as painting lines on pavement.

Perhaps that's part of what drew me to one of my favorite movies of the last ten years, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. It's a movie that tackles so many interesting things, that it almost seems funny to concentrate on this one, but Perfume is the only movie I've ever seen that talks about the art of creating smells. That's something that fascinates me, and after Perfume, I feel like I know something about it.

The work of a road crew may not be as elegant or as sexy, but it's probably a bit more important.

Finally in sync with David Gordon Green

In the first sentence of this post I described Prince Avalanche as a "return to form" for its writer-director, David Gordon Green.

But to be truthful, none of Green's previous forms -- and there have been several -- have ever been a perfect fit for me.

Green started off life as a director of acclaimed indie films, which is how I was first introduced to him. But I didn't really like either All the Real Girls or Snow Angels. In fact, I kind of hated All the Real Girls. I haven't seen George Washington, which I understand finds him taking the form of Terrence Malick, or Undertow, which I know less about.

He then surprised people with a radical shift to the mainstream, directing a triumvirate of stoner comedies: Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter. Oddly enough, I feel more positively than most about the two of those movies people tend to hate: Your Highness and The Sitter. Pineapple Express is a better film, but the amount short it fell of my expectations gives me an impression of it that's, in certain ways, more negative than my impression of the two weaker films that followed it.

So after five feature films of Green's that I'd seen, I had yet to really click with him. That has finally changed with Prince Avalanche, I'm pleased to say.

We'll have to see where we go from here. His next film is Joe, a movie starring Nicolas Cage (the good Cage, I think), which has already played at festivals but has yet to get a theatrical release. The real test could be when Green takes another new form and directs a horror, the announced remake of one of my favorites of all time, Suspiria.

I can hardly imagine how that one will work out, but anyone who can assume as many forms as this guy will continue to interest me, even if we may not always be in sync.


Nick Prigge said...

I liked this post, you sort of adopting the mindset of our "heroic" road crew. I like solitude also (too much?) and considering I currently live alone I always feel like I'm not utilizing my time properly. It seems to slip away so easily.

And I like that thought about onscreen jobs, too. It's usually the same jobs repeated again and again in a movie, and it's nice when they introduce you to some other type of gainful employment.

Hey, and have a good Christmas in your new faraway land, my friend, solitude or no solitude, job or no job.

Vancetastic said...

Thanks Nick! And to you and yours as well.