The Woman, the Man, the Bridge


Monday, October 2, 2000

The Woman and the Man on the Bridge

Again, after an abstinence of almost two years, I discover why I do not go to movies. It is because every movie I see, almost every one, generates in me a search for universal themes and I find myself delving deep into my own psyche. These journeys are difficult and expensive, they are like having to buy a work of art because you know you have been touched by the artist’s intention.

I agree with Jerry Fodor, the philosopher and linguistic theoretician. He shows how unlikely it is that two people will ever really understand each other. His reasons are rooted in philosophical and linguistic theory and in his lofty terms, they may be difficult to grasp, but even popular writers and, recently, researchers in psychology have made it clear that the differences between two people, gender, class, education, language, and simply city of origin, exert an amazing influence upon the way in which things are perceived and therefore mutually (mis)understood. Wittgenstein, the philosopher, concluded that all problems between people arise from misunderstanding and mistakes in logical grammar.

So the movie I was inveigled to witness, “The Girl on the Bridge,” sent me off on another probe into the meaning of this cinema to me, vis a vis the intention of the maker. First, French films are always French. There is no doubt about the Frenchness of the point-of-view, the approach, the plot. French plots are generally simple and obvious and not very subtle, ever. This attitude is easily seen in any listing of French movies that have become minor intellectual “hits,” in this country: ranging from the enjoyable but obvious 1950's “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday,” and “Andalusean Dog,” a strange film which might have been done by Dali, and therefore might not be as French as it is Spanish. But only recently, I witnessed some scenes from a French film, “Golden Age,” in which the artist Max Ernst played a role, and the acting was French. But you’d have to see it to get it, and then you might not, because we have to consider Wittgenstein and Fodor again.

The Girl on the Bridge might as easily been titled the Man on the Bridge. Two losers encounter each other and find that together they are magical and apart, they are simply losers. Such is the basic truth of the plot. But within that truth lies a deeper importance that is shared, I would venture to guess, by everyone. The Greeks postulated six sexes: originally, they said, we were all twinned within one body and we were happy. There were the woman-woman twins, the man-man twins, and the woman-man twins. The gods were jealous that these humans were so happy, so they split them up. Ever more, the story goes, people spent their lives searching for their other half. That is a sweet sentiment, and one that appeals easily to most. It surely appeals to me. Most pairing-up, just look around you, results in both persons being less than they were before the union. So imagining a pairing in which the two persons are both BETTER for the conjunction is a very happy thought.

So the movie does this for us. It shows us two losers, one a girl who believes that if she has sex with a guy then she will be ‘saved.’ The other, a side show performer, a knife thrower with a tremor, who can’t put two sous together to make a pair. Both are beautiful. The girl, sweet, simple, easy, with a split between her two front teeth (which in some circles is supposed to engender good luck), the man, older, a dark eyed chiseled face with a DeGaul nose shared by every Frenchman worth his French salt.

The movie has its surrealistic moments, beginning with an interrogation of our heroine by an unknown woman’s voice before an assembly of some sort. One imagines a courtroom, a medical school class watching a psychiatric patient being drawn-out, a TV show with a live audience, whatever. It is a French trick. Not very convincing, but there it is. The plot, again, is simple and blunt. The girl keeps looking for her “Mr. Right,” who will with his promises, his handsome face, youthful body, and his prick somehow make everything OK. Instead, her men do what men do: they fuck her, become bored and leave. The man keeps looking for his own perfection: women who will trust him, obey him, oblige him, enervate him, in short, he is seeking an obedient mother. Neither finds the match until one night when both are bent upon ending it all in the cold waters of the Seine. She gets there first and is about to jump, in fact does jump, and is saved by her “thanatophiliac” alter ego. He must see in her the possibilities he has been seeking and she is simply used to following any man. But together, in supreme Frenchness, they seem to do well. They can read each other’s thoughts, or at least he can apparently communicate with her in his mind and she, though doubtful, hangs around, trying to kick the habit of fucking everything in pants. They are divided, almost finally, by the appearance of another “Mr. Right,” (it is not an accident that this man is Greek) whose looks and dashing ways present an unbeatable combo. He even asks her what side of the bed she prefers! What a guy. In a way, this is the same theme as “Last Tango in Paris,” where the girl finds out that her older lover is not wealthy enough and she returns to her young and handsome military officer and she kills the old guy (Marlon Brando) telling the police: “I did not know him.” (That is the truth, by the way.)

So, like the now divided, previously perfect pair of Greek lore, the two scurry around, just like everyone else in the world, seeking the magic they had with each other. Of course, they fail. He is all but destitute and, magically again, appears on the same (or similar) bridge over the Seine again seeking his death. This time she saves him.

OK, why should such a simple and obvious plot be worth sitting two hours to watch? Easy answer: basic human stuff. Like opera. Opera, too, tells the same story over and over, but it is the one we really want to believe, despite the cold truth. And, too, it has its instructional value: girls, you won’t find happiness by using your body to find it. Oh, I am sure fucking everyone with a handsome face can be fun, it can also be a bit dangerous in today’s world. But there is another side to the girl’s quest: if you do find someone to whom you are of value and if that man appreciates the value you add to his existence, then just maybe there is something important to take note of.

Men, you cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Either it works or it doesn’t. Perhaps the man in this movie was older to show a point: he was not interested in jumping her bones. At least there was no overt desire shown. When you are young, just fucking and realizing that you will quickly forget the girl, is probably enough–got to get your rocks off, you know. But as the coming of wisdom tends to coincide with the waning of male hormones, perhaps this man no longer wishes to imagine he had the power to dematerialize as soon as his orgasm was over. There is only one time in a man’s life when he really knows if he is with a woman he can live with. That moment is a millisecond after his orgasm, when, in almost complete contradistinction to sexual physiology of the woman he is banging, his ardor pales, his mind clears and, for a few moments in time, he can see what is really there. If what he sees at that moment is of importance, of value, well then maybe he’s really got something.

Oh, we could talk about other themes: why a bridge and not a pill or a gun? Well the bridge is another of those universal themes, a device to take someone from one place to another. In this case, from useless seeking to finding, perhaps. Why is the man a knife thrower and why all the danger and hints of death and murder? Why does the man have the knife to throw and why does the woman have to succumb to his occasionally tremorous aim? Well try to imagine it reversed. Does that do it? Universals.

The man-woman theme is presently being re-written and re-scripted in the hands of busy-body feminists. I predict that they will be unable to reformulate the basics of life upon this earth, in which we, as human life, as animals, participate. Our purpose, just like every other animal and plant: make babies. Everything spins around that credo. If you do not like that credo, perhaps you should find a bridge and jump.