Friday, April 14, 2017

Julian Barnes' "The Sense of an Ending": Book, Film, and Unsettling Birthday Experience

It was my birthday, and as a gift to myself, I went to a movie. Let me back up: I hardly ever go to movies during academic semesters, although I do go during breaks in the academic year. But I had been wanting to see the new movie version of Julian Barnes’ “The Sense of an Ending” (a Booker-prize winning novel about which I posted here on 1/6/12; readers can find out more about the story there; today I instead focus on my own experiences and feelings before, during, and after seeing the film). On my birthday morning, I thought I would check online to see how much longer the movie would be at a local theater, and found that the last showing before the film left the theater would be in the late afternoon on that very day. OK, so it was apparently meant to be. I left campus a little earlier than usual, got to the theater a little early, and casting around for something to read to pass the time, leafed through a book I had put in my trunk in order to return it to the library, having decided not to read it after all: Peter Orner’s “Am I Alone Here?” This is a book about books, and as I flipped through it during those fifteen minutes before the movie was to start, within seconds my eye was caught by a very negative mention of Barnes’ novel; in fact, Orner claims he threw the book out of a car window, reacting very strongly against the main character in the book, Tony, as well as sarcastically impugning it as a "book club copy." The story was meant to be humorous, but the negative feelings came through. This was unsettling on several levels. First, what a coincidence that glancing through a book I had already "rejected" myself, I happened across a reference to its author rather scornfully rejecting a book I had liked very much, the film of which I was about to see! Was this somehow the book’s revenge on me for rejecting it? A message from the universe? With mixed feelings, I watched the movie, and I liked the movie, although I didn’t love it. I mainly liked it because it was about the juxtaposition and connections between our older selves and our younger selves (something I have had reason to think about a lot lately), and because the two lead actors – Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling – were excellent. Also, more generally, I especially like movies set in England, and "quiet" movies about people's lives and relationships (as opposed to "action" movies, "big" movies, genre movies, and movies where the action is more important than the conversations). But against my will, Orner’s emphatic dismissal of the book left its mark, and I found myself comparing my feelings with his as I was watching the movie. In other words, I couldn’t ignore what I had read about the book and by extension the movie, and although I disagreed with and resented Orner’s comments, they had insidiously worked their way into my brain and affected my response to the film. This small tale of my birthday gift to myself made me reflect on coincidences in our lives, as well as on how easily we are influenced by the opinions of others, even those we actively resist.
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