In Which We Pretended Not To Notice Her

I Think You Understand Why That Can Never Work

by MARK ARTURO

You were sitting on a stool in midtown, perfectly erect even without the backing of the chair. It was not unusual for you to look your best when I was at my worst.

Later, I looked up a place to meet another woman, who I will call Sam. When I arrived, nearly an hour before she did, the waiters applauded. She kissed me goodnight next to the 6 train. She wanted to go to another bar, one that was not so stiff. I said, no, I had to get home. The subway is the most fulfilling place to cry that time of night.

Sam worked for this internet company that was on the verge of unprecedented wealth. For the first time in her life, she was going to become seriously rich, even though she had done very little to merit it. However, there was an expectation that she would amass considerable wealth at some point; this just happened to be the way it occurred.

At the same time I was dating another woman, Kelli, who lived downtown. Kelli is a secretary at a law firm. Neither of the women knew anything about the other, and it was a few months into this whole thing that I realized they would not have liked each other very much.

It is a gratifying and useless thing to be admired. In every good pairing I have seen, a mutual admiration at least develops over time, if each is the sort of person they represent themselves to be. If that feeling never develops, they are unhappy.

Kelli did not respect anyone who did not work hard. She took her own work very seriously, more seriously in fact than I have ever seen someone take their work. This was a positive commentary on whatever was inside her. During sex she shuddered like a mouse in a trap.

So that bar in midtown is supposed to really take you back to the day. I went back a few times, mostly when I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t run into Sam because I knew she hated the place. You feel like Don Draper but the music is even more terrible than that. Some Sinatra is expected but they played the worst kind of jazz, like what white people believe in their hearts that jazz should sound like.

The bartender would always have her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s mother come in and sit at the bar. She made them all kinds of crazy drinks and would describe how she made them. It was the only thing she ever had to say. In contrast, Sam talked a lot. Her family was from Mississippi, but I think she had been glad to leave. All her brothers were married now, and her father had been in the merchant marines and was a very hard man. She was the smartest person in her entire family, and she did not come from money or anything like that.

Sam shared her apartment with a Korean woman who was always traveling with her boyfriend to some far flung place. The first night I ever went over there, her kitchen looked like it had never been used. The only thing in her refrigerator was water because she worked so much. Her bed was insanely low on the floor and uncomfortable. She probably lives in a really nice apartment now, but this was not one. It was on a great street in Brooklyn though with a bar I still go to. The bar has this massive fireplace and they give you tons of free drinks and food, I have no idea why. I have never been in a place like that.

Maybe they were nice to me there because of Sam, or because they thought I was Sam’s boyfriend. (I wasn’t.) Despite working for a tech company and coding very well, Sam did not love the internet or being on it, so I doubt she is reading this right now. When we were together she seemed to melt on me. She had been in a relationship with a not-so-great guy. I think because of that, she didn’t want monogamy, which was fine with me because whenever I was in Manhattan, walking through Central Park just felt like a ghostly visitation of you. The boats moved in and out, and a glass window protected me from them.

It was too confusing seeing both Sam and Kelli, and things sort of petered out. I will say why for the sake of completeness. With Sam she had a lot of friends from her company and she was always drinking and getting wasted with them, and it sort of turned me off. They got high all the time and when she was high she was a disaster. Some parts of it were actually nice, but mainly it was like anti-therapy: the steps a person takes that make them less mentally well.

With Kelli she was really into fighting and I think she wanted someone who was also into it. That is sort of me, but I like serious arguments with emotional conclusions. She liked emotional arguments with serious conclusions. I think you understand why that can never work.

For awhile after that I was alone, and I spent most of my time walking along the Hudson. Remember that park we went to? I sometimes went there, and eventually met an anesthesiologist walking a poodle-cocker-spaniel mix. She lives on your street; well not exactly on your street, but closer to the projects. At times how emotionally unavailable she was made things easier; naturally soon after that it made things harder. After we broke up, she brought my coat back to me.

I think she could probably never love me, or anyone. I longed to tell her how much I loved her and how great she smelled and how perfect her skin was. You could tell her maybe one percent of that and she would accept it, but any more and she would smile and roll her eyes. Here was someone, I thought, who just did not give a fuck whether anyone admired her or not. It was obvious it could never work, but her apartment was so clean and cold. It was like making love in an icebox. Actually it was making love in an icebox.

The winter’s dangerous, and you might not live in the city anymore. Meeting someone now is taking a chance, I know, and it is both fortunate and unpleasant that it buries you still deeper. I told you I bought plane tickets for us, and for a second you believed me. I told you I was willing to do this or that, and that I wasn’t willing to do some other things. You believed me. I told you that I loved you and that you were a mystic of the north and south and east and west, and that I had never met anyone like you. You believed me.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan.


 

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In Which We Have To Go Crazy For Someone

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by edna andrade

Your Forecast

by LINDA EDDINGS

Aries: God gave you the earth, the sun, and the stars? What did you do with it?

I saw you walking among the plants. You smashed a tomato, a living thing which did not breathe or offer up its name. Years from now, your skull will take on tiny, imperceptible fractures at the base. Call your mother.

Taurus: The awkward moment when you arrive anywhere, as if it is someplace you think you truly belong.

I can read the exhaustion on your face. What you are tired of are things complete in themself, which do not even require you a little bit.

The moon in July emits an acrid light. Avoid its gaze like you do mine. I hope in Bali, a decade from now, I run into you with your wife, and she smells vaguely of vaseline and turpentine.

Gemini: All flaws double. Next to you on a plane a child traces the sign of the cross. He aimlessly kicks the seat of a better person than you.

You are engaged to some basic with the personality of a brontosaurus. Your mother says she is harmless and bakes a cake for my anniversary. I always sensed we got along a lot better than you and I.

Cancer: Last year my dog was sprayed by a skunk on Gravel St. The skunk marched away officiously, letting me know what she had done was not only a reflex, but also a choice.

Badgers, groundhogs, centipedes and fire ants. There is no accounting for preference. But when I saw a gentleness in you, I shuddered, like watching a hyena care for its young.

Leo: Makeshift piles of all the things you wanted to remember, spread out in a oval. “I want to travel,” you bleated, but the farthest you made it was the island off that little beach. In the distance, clouds negotiated a gentle peace with each other.

Don’t take all the oxygen. Leave some for the birds.

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by vija celmins

Virgo: You don’t know anything beyond what you have been told. What you were told was passed on by a crooked woman with the longest nails in the county. The county seat was vacant for many years. All the flowers and streamers were placed in a dumpster. They were replaced by a generous philanthropist whose name escapes me.

Libra: You could make the dish in the traditional way. Would it not be more fun to think abstractly? What is food? What is this reality? On the far side of the planet Saturn, men meet and decide such important questions as what they will wear to the dinner party and how best to empathize with creatures from outer space.

You know this place isn’t yours, even though you keep your things here. What you can own isn’t even half a percent of what you see.

The traditional way is lost to us now.

Scorpio: Pass.

Sagittarius: Thumbs pointed up, you climbed a mountain. Each step you took was the eventual marker of an angry soul. And look at the pieces of the avalanche! The face you recognize the most is not the one you love, but an approximation.

Find a way to work the shit emoji into a text with your new boyfriend.

Capricorn: Hold a treasured doll at a ninety degree angle to your face. When a treasured friend asks for advice, mete out the opposite of your inner belief. You have lost that treasured guide. You have come to a treasured Asian bakery.

Below this establishment, kittens play easily, sweetly. They play Uno.

Aquarius: Standing next to you in line, I sensed others watching us. They wanted to see how we would touch, when we would touch.

Instead we address each other without proximity or ease of use. “Your alma mater,” I say. “Alone for miles,” you respond, and the lights meant to direct us forwards flicker on and off.

I could stand further back, or move in a step or two. Neither would put me close to the thing that I am when I close my eyes.

Pisces: You are so sweet to talk to me, to tell me you are thinking of me. You are so kind. You make this sordid act of living better and I am grateful for you, until the next orbit.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

 

In Which We Assume The Worst When We See The Best

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The Bonfire of the Bosom Buddy, Part II

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

I was watching The Polar Express and trying to recover the spirit of Christmas for some muffins I was planning when it occurred to me: doesn’t that train conductor remind me of something ineffable and someone specific?

My aunt told me it was Tom Hanks, and I was like, “they modeled the conductor after a producer on Big Love?” She explained that Hanks was the owner of a long and storied Hollywood career, while her daschund Leopold stared at me unforgivingly for my ignorance. I spent this past weekend watching all of this old-timey actor’s moving pictures, and I have summarized the plots of these films so you can easily find what interests you. UPDATE: I watched more movies of this old gentleman. He must be 80 by now. Was he also the male lead in Mad About You? If so, I will address it in a forthcoming feature-length essai.

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Splash

A man has sex with a mermaid and feels somewhat bad about it. The mermaid’s father frowns upon the match because it conflicted with the IPO of his underwater company.

Inferno

A repressed homosexual finds a riddle in his morning coffee. He pretends to have a relationship with a woman and convinces her that the message in the coffee was of such tremulous importance that they can never consummate the immense attraction between them. She dies.

The Money Pit

A home restoration project goes south when a man realizes his wife is Shelley Long.

Bachelor Party

A famous football player insists that protection is for Ravens while attempting sex. The woman mishears “Ravens” as “cravens”, freaks out, and ends up majoring in communications. Todd Phillips is passed out nearby and gets the idea for The Hangover.

Dragnet

Two white police officers pay tribute to a long-running television series by visiting Santa Claus at the North Pole. Santa tells them to come back when they’re animated.

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Big

A man shrinks to the size of a gumdrop to become a boy again and lives inside a huge piano with all his friends. Older women are constantly intuiting he’s more advanced sexually than he professes. To return to full size, he is forced to rape a gypsy woman.

Punchline

A comedian is infected with AIDS by Denzel Washington.

Turner and Hooch

A man and an anti-Semitic dog fight crime.

The ‘Burbs

You may be more familiar with a recent remake of The ‘Burbs, Saw IV.

Joe Versus the Volcano

A pet detective finally marries his true love (Courteney Cox) and decides that Meg Ryan is likelier to have a successful big screen career. He struggles to find a way to break off the engagement before deciding to burn his penis off in an active volcano.

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The Bonfire of the Vanities

A journalist with no imagination finds it easier to make things up than interview any more astronauts than he has to. He uses a revolutionary technique to clone himself. He names the clone Malcolm Gladwell.

A League of Their Own

An alcoholic womanizer leads a baseball team of women to greatness and inadvertently creates a popular daytime television program. A text card at the end of the film specifies that they would have achieved nothing without a male manager.

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Sleepless in Seattle

A woman facebooks a guy and he ends up taking it way farther than it ever has to go. She falls in love with his eight-year old by accident and they go live on a cute houseboat for the rest of their lives.

Philadelphia

The two main people in a gay man’s life are Antonio Banderas and Denzel Washington, and he’s still unhappy as a clam for no discernible reason. Andrew Sullivan cameos as “another guy with HIV.”

Forrest Gump

The thinly disguised life story of Joe Biden. He has a sexual relationship with Robin Wright Penn and everyone has some misgivings that she took advantage of him. Biden emphasizes the fact that he rides Amtrak in his speeches because he is unable to pilot an automobile.

Sully

A pilot lands a plane. Everyone pretends to be impressed, including the seagulls.

Saving Mr. Banks

Walt Disney loved Jews, including Carl Bernstein, Jonah Hill and Barbra Streisand. You believe us, don’t you?

Apollo 13

A bunch of guys head into space, reassuring their wives with platitudes like, “We won’t fuck up in space,” and “It’s space, what could go wrong?” and “Kevin Bacon’s coming with us to space, this will be hilars.” These predictions prove largely inaccurate.

Captain Phillips

A man is almost certain that he is going to die, so he decides to make up an improbable story that he figures won’t matter because he will be dead anyway. He lives, and crosses his fingers every night that no one finds out his lie.

Saving Private Ryan

Despite the fact that Jews are dying by the millions in camps across Europe, it ends up being a lot more important for everybody’s peace of mind that one goy be rescued by a squadron of morons.

You’ve Got Mail

A man flirts with a woman on the internet; she is somehow not disgusted by the fact it takes 20 minutes for him to type one instant message into AIM. He misunderstands “Shop Around the Corner” for a sexual euphemism, she apologizes for the miscommunication. Not only does he not accept her apology, he puts her out of business and cuts off her airway with the skin folds from his degraded neck. The funeral is a lovely affair, and each of the eulogies emphasize the dangers of misrepresenting yourself on AIM.

The Green Mile

A magical, physically imposing black man heals people with his touch, so the white prison guards murder him, but not before he cures all their urinary tract infections. It turns out that the black man had the spirit of a white guy (Rob Schneider) inside him all along.

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Cast Away

High on cocaine, Robert Zemeckis has an idea that later becomes Lost; a plane crashes on an island and only the boring characters survive.

The Circle

A few guys are really attracted to Emma Watson to the extent completely unjustified by her looks, personality or apparel. One day, they hear her say she likes guys with beards, so they quickly all grow beards and spy on her in the bathroom. When confronted, they apologize and are rewarded with multiple seasons of their pet projects by Netflix.

Road to Perdition

Two playwrights debate the existential nature of life over dinner one evening. Hot topic: ‘what does the word perdition mean?’

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Catch Me If You Can

Christopher Walken has a son, and – shock, surprise! – it doesn’t turn out all that well. The son becomes a pilot and figures prominently in the September 11th terrorist attacks on America. He ends up dating Cardi B, probably.

Bridge of Spies

A bunch of people in Hollywood beg all their friends to pretend a movie is interesting. It isn’t.

The Post

Rich white people pretend that things they did were important. Ta-Nehisi Coates guest stars as a skeptical onlooker.

The Terminal

A man who jerks off into people’s luggage is apprehended and forced to copulate with Catherine Zeta-Jones while Michael Douglas looks on approvingly.

The Ladykillers

A brother-brother writer-director team misfires with their latest film and decides to nab an Oscar by utilizing the foolproof method of having Tommy Lee Jones do the movie’s voiceover.

The Polar Express

A shocking expose of how the Japanese kill 500 of Santa’s dwarves each year in front of a live studio audience in the Arctic.

The Da Vinci Code

Dr. Robert Langdon is infected with HIV by Denzel Washington.

Charlie Wilson’s War

Mike Nichols’ 100 minute logic proof that Elaine May had all the talent.

Angels and Demons

Dr. Robert Langdon gives up treasure hunting and retires to a tropical island with Audrey Tautou, Emily Blunt, and Denzel Washington.

Ellen Copperfield is a contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Remain Smaller Than We Were Before

All You Have To Do Is Say Yes

by ETHAN PETERSON

Downsizing
dir. Alexander Payne
135 minutes

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 8.48.15 AM.pngThere is a scene late in Alexander Payne’s Downsizing where a bunch of Norwegians watch the sun go down for the last time. It is an oblique commentary on President Trump’s desire to see more Norwegian-Americans, and as such it is very topical. Around 150,000 non-whites live in Norway, but as Payne pans across this collection of Norwegian people, they are a diverse panoply of different ethnicities. It is the moment where the question of, “Is Downsizing pandering?” is answered definitely in the affirmative.

Payne has been often celebrated for his satires. That is until Downsizing, because no one could seemingly figure out what was being satirized, or why it would be unusual for human beings to shrink down to a size of five inches. Once Paul (Matt Damon) makes this move, his wife (Kristen Wiig) refuses to go through with it and files for divorce. Instead of having a life of considerable wealth in his tiny village, he has to answer telephones for Lands’ End, which Payne presents as a humiliating job.

In contrast, Paul’s true calling is as an occupational therapist. He is always noticing when someone is walking funny or suffering from some kind of chronic pain. He dates a woman who doesn’t want him to meet her kid, and comes home to the same shitty apartment he might have in a large person’s world. In other scenes, he witnesses a depth of poverty that transcends the size of the people involved.

Paul spends the rest of the movie as a pseudo-doctor to those in the slums who can’t afford anything better. It is a strange choice for Payne’s film, but not as strange as the presentation of poverty in this context. Like many rich whites, Payne believes that those who depend on the efforts of others for their subsistence are uniformly non-white. Payne shares this view with – you guessed it – our beleaguered president.

Watching Matt Damon minister to the poor strikes us as a pathetic recreation of his actual life of justifying and defending the abhorrent behavior of his friends and colleagues. Yet in Paul there is something of the sycophantic enabler that Damon must be to the point where we sense Payne is using our disapproval of the actor behind the mask to draw suspicion to all those individuals who would do something positive for the wrong reasons. In the end, the wrong to be rectified is so much more awful that we accept any reason is just.

Poverty is a disgraceful symptom of a certain, more inclusive society. (Norway has never had to face such problems.) In order to eradicate it, we could conceivably shrink ourselves. As Payne presciently notes, there are ensuing problems – the amount of taxes collected would go down, the amount of consumer spending would go down. But what we should have realized before our government prevented the collapse of massive, irresponsible banks is that a new economy will always replace the old. This is the essential, undiminished spirit of capitalism. Payne writes around this essential question by drawing the world to an end in Downsizing.

By the end, the main character in Downsizing becomes Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a Vietnamese woman whose leg was amputed at the knee. She falls in love with Matt Damon while he is attempting to fix her prosthetic leg. In one exciting scene, they have sex after he is massaging her stump — she makes very elaborate groans which are meant to be a cue to initiate intercourse. Hong Chau is a fantastic actor in a somewhat problematic role, since Lan Tran has no flaws whatsoever and is basically presented as a female Confucius. Still, this at least feels like a risk in a movie that has very few.

As a result, the remedy that Downsizing offers for American life is focused on the personal. It is a very inoffensive, ineffectual answer to the serious economic question posed by this film’s premise, and I think audiences and critics reacted to Payne’s cowardice. I tend to give him a wider berth, but I understand it. In art, it’s not enough, anymore, to say how and why the world feels wrong to you. You should probably have an idea of how it could be changed for the better.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

 

In Which We Solve Many Problems With Tears

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi,

I have been dating my girlfriend Lydia for over a year. My apartment was damaged by a fire in a neighboring domicile less than three months ago, so I moved in with Lydia. Things have been going great, but recently she has been alluding to the idea that I won’t be moving out.

Living together is a new experience for me, and it is hard sometimes to be around someone so much, even someone you love. We have different interests and it has been difficult making time for some of mine since moving in.

Since it wasn’t feasible to secure a new place until I received money from my insurance company, I held off. But I do intend to move out and recently secured a room in a multiperson apartment until I can purchase or rent my own place. What is the best way to break this news to my girlfriend?

Taylor R.

Dear Taylor,

You know that rap song where it’s like, “Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn”? That should have been you.

There are a few problems with the path you have chosen. The first is that you did not make your situation clear to Lydia before moving in. You should have done that in writing, and if possible through some kind of henna. The second is that you are looking for a way to not be honest with her. Crying can solve a lot of problems that reasoned discourse can never approach in its particulars.

Who am I kidding? They call HTS the House of Sweet Lies for a reason. The best way to get out of this is if her building doesn’t allow pets. If they don’t, you can claim an animal has been forced on you. Choose an exceptionally short-lived creature, e.g. a housefly or a pigeon.

Unfortunately a lot of buildings allow pets, which moves our situation to Plan B, which I call the Godfather plan. Someone made you an opportunity you couldn’t refuse, and you had to take that apartment. Possibilities include an amazingly cheap apartment, or that your new roommate is a friend who needs you there or (s)he will slit her wrists.

If you can’t think of a compelling reason, suddenly explain that you have been doing some thinking and there is evidence to suggest that people have better relationships when they don’t live together before marriage. Lydia’s eyes will light up at the thought of a long term committment with the plan who is currently plotting a way to spend less time with her.

Hi,

My boyfriend Davis served a short prison term from 2011-2012. He was incarcerated because of a drunk driving incident where he harmed another driver.

Davis and I have been talking about possibly getting engaged in the next year. My question is whether you think I should mention any of this to my family before or after the engagement/wedding?

Mallie R.

Dear Mallie,

It is impossible to keep such a thing a secret if you are going to include Davis as part of your family. It is going to come out at some point, e.g. when his prison buddies show up to take you hostage demanding liters of your blood or Jim Beam.

The key is to present this information to your family in the correct way. That correct way includes while Davis is performing some relevant community service, like ladling out soup at a kitchen, counseling young individuals on the error of his ways, or cunnilingus. Let your family know that Davis is a changed man. I assume he gives speeches for a modest rate as a part of his rehabilitation? OK, see ya.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

 

 

In Which We Recognize Ryan Gosling For A Reason

Gestalt

by ETHAN PETERSON

Blade Runner 2049
dir. Denis Villeneuve
161 minutes

dfefrefefefefefefefetttyyy.jpgBlade Runner 2049 begins when K (Ryan Gosling) kills a robot on the robot’s farm, which is owned by Wallace (Jared Leto) who invents robots for a living and is probably a robot himself. (K is also a robot, the most handsome robot imaginable.) If you just take as a given that everyone is a robot in Blade Runner 2049, you will be fully correct most of the time, since the film has taken the step of eliminating the distinction between humans and automatons with their own consciousness, if there ever existed one in the first place.

Gosling reports back to his boss at the LAPD, Madam, who is played by Robin Wright Penn. All of Wright Penn’s recent roles have involved an unfeelingness, so I guess this is why Villeneuve cast her in this familiar part. This is a general problem across Blade Runner 2049 – when actors are too readily identified with their roles, we substitute our knowledge of their characteristics for ones that may be present in the drama.

Villeneuve leans on this heavily, since there is not a lot here in the way of character development in general. In Blade Runner 2049, a crooked businessman is a crooked businessman, a fixer and forger is a decent and hearty sort, and a prostitute sells her body for a reason.

At the site of the killing, Gosling finds the remains of Rachael, a robot from the first movie. The skeleton indicates she was pregnant. Wright Penn’s character wants to find and destroy the child for the implications a pregnant machine would bring, whereas Wallace wants to find a way to breed robots since it is too expensive to construct them on the interplanetary scale he requires. The implication is that neither solution is definitively correct, since both approaches involve the underlying assumption that an articially constructed person is not a person. “You got along just fine without one,” Penn tells Gosling. He responds, “Without what?” “A soul.”

This kind of hamfisted obviousness was missing from Ridley Scott’s original, as was the concept of an automaton as a kind of depressed person who believes or she is missing something because they are not fully human. The date of birth of the robot reminds Gosling of an implanted memory he has – in short, he is running from other boys at an orphanage, and he has to hide a wooden horse from them. On the bottom of the wooden horse is the same date as the one on the birthed robot.

Gosling perhaps reasonably assumes that he is the birthed robot, who was given over to an orphanage. In order to be sure, he visits the creator of the memory to see if it is a real memory or a fake one. When she looks at it, she says it is real. But she is lying to him, because she is actually the first and only robot baby, and she is in hiding. Her father is Deckard (Harrison Ford), and for some reason he is living in a decimated Las Vegas, where some kind of electromagnetic bomb went off.

Gosling is usually a treat to watch. He has great facial expressions, and an engagingly repressed enthusiasm for life. In casting him as a robot, Villenueve goes to great lengths to preserve these strengths, even though the natural limitations of the role are at odds with them. We don’t realize how much Gosling seems to strain at these restrictions until we meet Deckard inhabiting an empty casino where videos of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra cycle from before the blackout.

Mr. Ford is not much of a pilot, but he is tailor made for this role. Even his expressions of what, on the surface, appear to be genuine human emotion contain an innate reserve that we often call dignity. In contrast, Gosling’s anguish is of a more base, helpless variety. There is something powerful in the contrast of the two performances, but it is only natural that we gravitate as viewers to the one that places our species in the most positive light.

Villeneuve is a slick director with a gift for composition and a handle on what is required in successful art direction. There are lots of neat touches and update to the genre defining look that Blade Runner introduced when it bombed at theaters in 1982. Even some of the same locations get a makeover, although for the most part the grittiness and verite of the original is missing here, replaced by the emptying aftereffects of climate change.

You could probably make an infinite number of Blade Runner movies on roughly the same themes — how technology has the potential to continue the objectification of women, pets, and racial minorities, how replacing humans with AIs makes no tangible difference to life as it is generally constructed, how every living thing demands to be treated with a certain amount of respect no matter who or what it came from. All these messages are timeless, but in Blade Runner 2049, they start to feel a bit closed off to us. Should the future be so concrete?

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

 

In Which We Require Our Own Space

Efficiency

by ELIZABETH BARBEE

I needed an apartment to match my bohemian lifestyle, so I found a small efficiency on the outskirts of Austin. The place was rundown and seedy, facts obvious upon sight, but my mantra was there is beauty in decay. I had just broken up with my boyfriend of four years and it felt hypocritical to discriminate against anything that needed mending. I trusted my ability to romanticize the yellowed walls, the stale cigarette stink, the fact that my neighbors had Wi-Fi names like “Bitches Cum” and “The Dave Matthews Band.” For at least the first week I made the best of it.

Immediately after graduating college I took a job editing erotica. It seemed like the perfect gig for a young English major desperate to demonstrate the depth of her open-mindedness, so I pounced at the opportunity. My first assignment was a gay vampire e-Book called Pack that the publisher described as SEXTREME. Because all of the characters were male there was a lot of pronoun confusion. I could never tell if the protagonist were masturbating or getting lucky. Most of my notes in Track Changes consisted of a single question mark. Regardless, I felt like Anaïs Nin. If only I had been brave enough to shave my eyebrows.

My only friend in town was a free-spirited University of Texas graduate named Saul. He had just sold a story to This American Life, so we were both in the literary biz. He was my first visitor. The moment he stepped through the door he began speaking in the third person. “It isn’t bad, but Saul wouldn’t live here,” he said. I think now this was his way of distancing himself from the filth of my living space. It was also the first sign of the horror to come.

the vampiric type

Later that night, when I was in the early stages of sleep, I heard screams coming from next door. They were not the kind of sexual screams I read about in Pack. They were frightening. The logical thing to do would have been to call 911, but in my dreamlike state I saw only two options: go back to sleep and let my neighbor die, or put on a pair of pants and rescue him. Because of guilt rather than altruism, I chose the latter.

It took him five minutes to open the door, just enough time for me to realize I might get shot. When he finally appeared he was wearing a knee length Madonna concert t-shirt and casually smoking a joint. “Hey, girl, what’s up?” he said. “You want to hit this?” I shook my head and explained frantically the reason for my visit. He looked amused. “I get night terrors sometimes. No biggie. I’m surprised you haven’t heard me before.” I asked no follow up questions and bought a pair of earplugs.

Shortly thereafter Saul took an assignment in South America. With my only friend gone, I started a tepid love affair with a first year law student I met at a coffee shop. He had all the markers of a serial killer (frightening intelligence, vacant eyes, distaste for pets), but he kept me company. Plus, he had lots of interesting views on intellectual property in the Internet age, so I decided to overlook his Ted Bundy quality.

Because I had grown to hate my own place I spent a lot of time at his. It smelled always of fried potatoes, but as far as I could tell he never ate. Instead of going out to dinner we stayed in and rented movies, most of which were directed by Ingmar Bergman. Persona is an uncomfortable thing to watch, especially with someone you vaguely suspect of being an ax murderer.

manslaplinfTwo weeks into our lackluster romance he mentioned a roommate whose existence seemed highly unlikely. “It’s a one bedroom apartment,” I challenged. “Where’s his toothbrush?” “Hugo is a busy man,” he said. “Always jetting off somewhere and taking his toiletries with him.” Perhaps if he had chosen a more believable name I would have stuck it out, but Hugo was too far fetched. I ended things that night. He rarely contacted me after that, but in a fit of paranoia I decided he was stalking me. Too cheap to buy mace, I kept a can of hairspray next to my bed. “If he breaks in I’ll douse him with Aqua Net,” I thought.

I am embarrassed now by my egotism. I wonder where I got the idea that I was interesting enough to be stalked. The dude was weird, sure, but only slightly more so than average. Looking back I think it was the unfamiliarity of him that scared me the most. I had spent all of college curled up next to the same man and now I had to get used to this new body. It had hair in places my ex’s did not, scars and tattoos I had never seen before. Everything about him, just like everything about that year, was foreign.

All of my discomfort during that time was self-inflicted. I made decisions based on the person I wanted to be (Anaïs Nin) instead of the person I actually was (Elizabeth Barbee, a suburban-bred geek with an affinity for stability). When I came to this realization, I found an administrative job that was boring as hell but allowed me to move to a nicer place. I submitted my final thoughts on Pack to the publisher. “Can we change the main character’s name to Hugo?” I asked. “It sounds more vampiric.”

Elizabeth Barbee is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about her vital signs.

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