A famous C. S Lewis quote reminds us that “We read to know we are not alone”. Whilst I certainly believe this to be true in respect of books, this mantra also works for me in relation to cinema-going. The film I saw this evening, exceptional in its theme and creation, reiterates the theme of feeling alone, like the tears of a clown.
When I was a 21 year old University student working in Paris back in 1991/2, I lived in a former Prison that was converted into lodgings for about 1,000 girls (only). In France, such styles of shared living where you have your own room, shared bathrooms and a group dining room, are quite commonplace for young single workers. My employers paid for my accommodation so it gave me more money to spend on clothes, a fancy gym membership, travelling and cinema outings.
Like any big City, Paris can be a terribly lonely place to live. At weekends, when many of the girls would go and visit their families, I felt like I was actually incarcerated (when I wasn’t with my boyfriend, friends or family) so I spent a lot of time in the cinema as well as at the gym. At the time I was writing a thesis on French Cinema’s lauded ‘Nouvelle Vague’ movement and many of these films were showing in theatres throughout Central Paris.
I was obsessed with the world of Beineix (Betty Blue, 37.2 Le Matin); Besson (Le Dernier Combat, Le Grand Bleu and DIVA) and Carax (Les Amants du Pont Neuf) – so much so that I hunted Beineix down and interviewed him about my favourite film of all time, Betty Blue. I also visited where Betty Blue was filmed and considered buying and living in one of the ‘baraques’ where Zorg and Betty lived. It never happened. Fortunately, I didn’t poke my eye out like Betty did!
The cinematic experience has always allowed me to drift off into a world of my own, as if I was having a Mr Benn moment, launching my designer boots into the screen and actually feeling, touching and tasting the actors’ temporary reality. I was desperate to get an MA place at The British Film Institute (BFI) where eight places are awarded, annually. Whilst they said my written skills were up to scratch, most of the applicants had years of experience as Directors or Producers. This didn’t happen either. I was gutted for weeks.
Almost 25 years later, I still love the cinema and it is actually a weekly outing for me. I like to go on my own, ironically; I can’t digest the film properly if I am talking to other people. But I never feel alone during a film, or lonely. I feel safe sitting in an awkwardly familiar fake-velour chair, in complete darkness, wrapped up in my pashmina. As I read this back, it makes me sound like such a sad bastard, but actually I am quite happy with my own Mr Benn-style existence. Mr Benn also has excellent taste in hats.
The reason I refer to loneliness or feeling alone though is because of the film I saw this evening: American Sniper with Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood. To his fellow Navy SEALS and Snipers, Chris Kyle was a true legend. He felt he belonged within his Unit. He felt he had a life purpose. Yet every time he returned to his wife and family (and Sienna is beautifully cast, as a brunette and somewhat bulked up (the chemistry between them is great) he felt alone and couldn’t connect with the outside world. And this is not an experience only felt by veterans.
So many people suffer in their own perimeters, whether it be from depression, loneliness, illness, fear and also in the increasingly solitary existence that we lead… “Metro, boulot, dodo” (“Tube, work, bed”) as the French so aptly say. We spend time actually talking to ourselves on social media and are constantly attached to our phones, Ipads and Kindles. We are all Lone Wolf Packs, to quote another, quite different type of film, The Hangover. Remote feeling and experiencing will get worse as we progress to the 2020’s and 30’s I believe, but films and books can always comfort us, wherever we are.
I spend a lot of time on my own. I rarely feel lonely per se. I feel alone but not lonely, if that makes sense. I can actually feel more lonely in a crowded room than on my own. I also know what it feels like to be in a relationship and to be alone. When your partner is with you in body but not in person. This is a very lonely place to be and one that Sienna Miller portrays so wonderfully on screen.
So what is the point of my blog? Well apart from the fact that leaving the cinema always inspires me to write, I think what I am trying to express is that feeling isolated, without connection or alone comes in many guises. Just look at the tragedy of Robin Williams… a smile can mask a thousand demons. I enjoy being on my own – possibly too much (which is partly why I am not married) but I know many people who can’t stand the silence or bear to be on their own for a few hours let alone a weekend or longer.
So for my part I am indebted to the hundreds or even thousands of book authors and film directors and producers that have made me feel connected with their world, whilst still keeping me in the realms of my own happy kind of Lone Wolf Pack. From Ian Fleming, Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier to Lord Archer and John Green… to Malcolm Gladwell and Dr Wayne Dyer to Lesley Kenton and Roald Dahl – all these authors (and many more) have illuminated my Yellow Brick Road. And to the directors and producers too – many of whom are fellow loners who use their solace to help share the insides of their minds with the outside world. And for all of this we should all be eternally grateful. If C. S. Lewis were alive today, I am sure he might amend his famous quote to “We read and watch films to know we are not alone”. Amen.