Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

ImageThere can be no sight without sound, no beauty without brutality, no love without hate, no pleasure without pain. Such dichotomies comprise the framework of Michael Haneke’s, The Piano Teacher (2001), the story of Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), a middle-aged pianist and instructor at an elite Viennese music conservatory who specializes in Schubert and Schumann.

The opening scene is a confrontation between Erika and her mother after Erika comes home a few hours late. Their argument escalates, even becoming physical and when the mother ransacks Erika’s bag we expect to find drugs, condom wrappers, firearms. Turns out, she was only hiding a dress she bought. An absent father, we’re told, has been in a psychiatric hospital for most of Erika’s life. Erika seems like a victim, but as we learn, her damage takes the form sociopathy.

During her lessons, she is particularly harsh to the students, gazing trance-like out the window as they play, then swooping over their shoulder to bark criticisms. (“Bach writes in shouts and whispers, you are merely playing it loud and soft!”) She is particularly brutal to a virtuosic girl who seems to remind Erika of herself. She later sabotages the girl, hiding glass in her jacket pockets, causing her to injure her hand before an important performance. Erika watches dirty movies in the private viewing booths of porn shops while sniffing the discarded tissues; she peeps in on lovers at a drive-in movie; she engages in genital self-mutilation. When a sycophant student named Walter professes his love for her, she acknowledges his advances but resists any physical consummation, insisting first on presenting him with a written sadomasochistic wish list.

Erika will always be out of step with other people. Though presenting a hyper-controlled persona, her imagination is filled with thoughts of self-harm. She is most in her element observing the world. She is a voyeur, but even as a teacher, her interest in her students is all about distance. She is happier brutalizing them than helping them grow. The film has virtually no score except for the Schubert and Schumann she plays and teaches. The music is used exclusively in diegesis, not only during the lessons and performances, but also in Erika’s head. A sonata plays as she watches other people having sex, serving as a buffer separating experience from consumption. The music is the way she disengages and is able to construct an approximation of pleasure and normalcy.

Through Walter, Erika recognizes an opportunity to really experience her deepest fantasies, but what she fails to realize is that unlike voyeurism, she must consider the needs of a partner. Every time Walter makes an advance, she bristles, barking orders as if they are at the piano. When she reveals her desire to be beaten and humiliated, Walter rejects her in disgust, it is only then that her fabricated personality breaks down and real desire transforms her to a pleading schoolgirl. Humiliated, she runs away. Walter chooses to use the narrative of their relationship as part of the fetishistic narrative she herself wrote. “You can’t just do this to people,” Walter said earlier after feeling she was leading him on, “You hurt me.” Remembering this, Walter is now playing along—now it’s his turn to hurt her.

He shows up late at night, locks Erika’s mother in the bedroom and beats and rapes her. Left bloodied, debauched and alone this was not how Erika pictured it.

The obsessive pursuit of sexual control is a zero-sum game. The courtship between Erika and Walter is not one of discovery and bliss, but one of two people circling each other like wolves from rival packs. At different times, both characters utter “I love you,” but in each case, the words only punctuate a position of exposure and vulnerability. As Erika says, savoring Walter’s desperation, “There’s more to life than love.”

Erika is a smart woman and it’s impossible to think this relationship would ever work out. She is incapable of love as a healthy person would understand it. For her, it is a cycle of suffering. What she wants most is to be the master of her own pain. It isn’t other people she wants to control, it’s her own life. Her foray with Walter is just another example. She actively introduces a condition of heartbreak and degradation just as she introduces a blade to her skin. It’s the ultimate pleasure.


Bob Gibson
Tonight, feeling in the spirit of spring and at a loss for something to watch over dinner I decided to revisit the Ken Burns’s Baseball. I evaluated my mood and chose my favorite “inning,” the one covering the 1960s.In a world of upheaval, the game finds itself evolving quickly, transforming in a few short years from the black-and-white clips of game 7 of the World Series in Pittsburgh, to a game of color and closeups that resembles what we see on television today. The old urban ballparks are demolished and replaced by concrete stadiums with expansive parking lots. The Player’s Union is born as players, in a struggle for emancipation from the Reserve Clause mirror the efforts of the Civil Rights movement in the quest for freedom.

As the war in Vietnam escalates and violence breaks out in cities across the country, football rises in popularity. In 1967 the first Super Bowl delivers short spurts of simulated warfare to living rooms across the country. It is viewed by more people than any game of that year’s World Series. Burns presents us with and era in which refuge from everyday turmoil cannot be found even in a pastoral, summer game. The National Pastime seems threatened and its traditionalists wonder whether it is possible for Americans to escape from the explosive, fast-paced world to the serenity of ballpark.

These traditionalists—represented here by Baseball’s usual talking heads of Doris Kearns-Goodwin, George Will, Roger Angell, Bob Costas. Gerald Early, Studs Terkel, et al—are even more magnificent in extolling the beauty and virtue of the game in the context of 60s then they are in the series’ other installments. We are told of the absence of time in baseball, how the other team can never kill the clock and has no option but to keep giving the other guys a chance, and even if you’re dying, you know you can live forever as long as you keep hitting. We hear an African American writer describe his emotional response to the ritual of the Star Spangled Banner before a game and how baseball was the only thing that made him feel connected to his country. Later, he describes the empowered feeling that drove him to march and to fight for civil rights. His rationale was that they had to prove that they would do whatever it took to achieve justice.

There is a part that describes the drama of inaction during a game. The excitement of baseball is rooted in the mind of the viewer; it happens in the endless seconds between pitches where a player digs in the dirt with his cleat, adjusts his cap, waggles the bat. While these things are happening, endless possibilities run through your mind as you watch. You play out every possible scenario before it happens so that when something finally does actually happen, it’s like a dream fulfilled. Sometimes, during these moments a hush can fall over the entire ballpark for just a few moments and you know that everyone there is going through this deeply intellectual process. It is this sequence that draws the viewer to the game in a way that nothing else can. The results can be explosive.

This is how I understand the sixties. Endless anticipation of huge things to come, revolution and the personification of tremendous sacrifices and powerful wills exacted on a collective target. People always say there was something in the air, the vibrations of the time—those vibrations are the same as the anticipation you find in any baseball game coupled with the payoff or the devastation everyone knew would come. It was a time of people proving they’d do anything to get what they wanted.

That baseball is still alive and well only proves that there is a place for ideas to be born in America. It is proof that we still believe big things can happen if we can only imagine them.

What of the world after?

What of the world after?

In Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2010 film, Biutiful, modern Barcelona is anything but the romantic city Americans envision or visit as tourists. The city decays as the dying Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a small-time hustler with the power to speak to the dead, tries to glean an existence for himself and his family. Iñárritu has chosen to show us little in the way of commerce: no grocery stores or no gas stations and certainly no office parks or shopping strips. Uxbal’s world is one of cracked concrete and concentrated people all scraping to survive.

Uxbal serves as a liason between two Chinese businessmen who run a sweatshop that produces knockoff designer goods and the Senegalese street vendors who sell them. He is also responsible for paying off a local police officer. Despite the bribes, the street vendors, including Uxbal’s friend Ekweme, who also sell drugs to supplement their income, are raided by police, beaten and deported. Uxbal brokers a deal to get some of the Chinese laborers to work for a construction company where Uxbal’s brother is a foreman. When he buys faulty heaters for the basement where the laborers sleep, they are poisoned by the gas and die in the night.

Given a diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer, Uxbal is forced to reconcile with his alcoholic wife for the sake of his two young children. But though there is a hint of a reconnection, she is mired in prostitution and drink; neglecting and abusing the children as soon as Uxbal relinquishes some of the parental responsibility.

The American audience understands the failure of the European economy in terms of how it will effect our own. Americans are accustomed to despair and anger after the monthly unemployment rate rises from 7.1 to 7.6 but 20% unemployment is truly shocking when translated from statistics to actual people. Economic stagnation is nothing new to Spaniards. Iñárritu does not aim to educate an ignorant audience.

Bleak is the word, so bleak in fact that Uxbal’s diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer seems only fitting. He is broken man, trying to fix broken people in a broken city. Biutiful is the story of arranging for life after.

On the surface, Uxbal is making preparations for his family. He does his best to secure income and to steer his hopeless wife in the direction of responsible parenthood. But Uxbal is interested in perpetuating life in a Barcelona that seems on the brink of utter collapse. Like Uxbal, Ekweme leaves behind his wife, Ige, and baby, Samuel who cannot afford to return to Africa. Uxbal gives his wife money and employs her as a nanny for his own children. For these people as well, Uxbal tries to create an existence. But why? Uxbal’s actions may be strictly benevolent, but as a medium, he knows that the dead are condemned to continue living in the world. Uxbal can find no comfort even in the thought that he won’t be around to see things get worse.

Just as Uxbal understands that there is an endless perception following death that dwarfs the understanding of the living, Biutiful uses poverty only as a backdrop for a story of magical realism. In a magnificently understated way, Uxbal has the power to communicate with the dead. Given this power, Uxbal must understand his imminent death in a uniquely knowing way. He hears the voices of the dead in their suffering, in their longing to touch the ones they’ve left behind. If Uxbal is afraid for himself, it is because he knows he will be condemned to the same fate. He will not be leaving his children behind, but from the prison of death, will be forced to surrender his ability to protect or comfort them while he watches them suffer.

Ige establishes herself in Uxbal’s home, but it isn’t until she decides to stay in Barcelona that he dies, content the world without him, though far from perfect will be sustainable even after he dies.


How much can I take from this land of plenty?

Terrance Malick’s 1978 masterpiece, Days Of Heaven was famously shot in the “magic hour” between dusk and darkness. The tiniest things seemed most highlighted in the bewitching twilight; each individual seed at the end of a shock of wheat, streaks of grime across the faces of anonymous field hands and the subtlest expressions and movement seethed with jealousy, contempt, desire. The story comprises a relatively convoluted scheme explained through the heavily colloquial and vague voice-over of fifteen-year-old Linda Manz whose character is removed from the primary action of the film. The result is an intensely visual form of storytelling. The surreal details captured by the lens blend seamlessly with the actors’ faces. The dimness of the Texas plains at nightfall highlights their features in ways that work beyond the performers’ raw skills.

It is not mastery of craft that enables seventeen-year-old Richard Gere, starring for the first time, to create such a memorable performance, but rather the way his flawless, youthful prettiness absorbs and reflects moonlight and distant ambiance. Only the tip of sinister intention peeks out at us through the shadows like a pair of alligator eyes tracking its prey.

Gere, sixty-three at the release of last year’s Arbitrage (directed by Nicholas Jarecki), has retained more than his fair share of youthfulness, but without masterful cinematography he is left only with his ability; alas, we can see very little beyond the furious condescension peculiar to the super-stressed elite and the self-satisfied smugness of a short-term victorythis is a guy who loves to close the deal.

[The following passage contains plot-spoiling details]

The film tells the story of Robert Miller (Gere), a wealthy hedge-fund manager on the cusp of selling his business. After a rushed birthday dinner with his wife (an underutilized Susan Sarandon) and family, he hurries off to the real party with his mistress, Julie (Laetitia Casta). We soon learn that there is more to the sale than we thought. The IRS has come sniffing around and he’s been forced to borrow $400 million in order to plug a hole he created in the company books to finance a shady investment that went bust.

One night, Miller and Julie are in his car when he falls asleep and crashes, killing her. Fearing public and familial shame along with the potential destruction of the deal, he decides to cover it up. He calls an acquaintance named Jimmy (Nate Parker), a young black man from Harlem to take him home. Things unravel for Miller from there. A slovenly detective (Tim Roth summoning his best Columbo impression) is on to him, and attempts to force Miller’s hand by going after the innocent Jimmy. His daughter, an financial executive in his company finds out about the accounting discrepancy and when she confronts him about it, he is remorseless.

I believe it is Gere’s challenge to find some inkling of sympathy in this character. No easy task, to be sure. I think there are two distinct strategies employed in an effort to achieve this. The first is identification with a man who risks losing his family, his money and the company he spent a lifetime building. There are some good moments to this effect. The scene where he’s begging the keeper of his $400 million loan to wait just a little longer was well-played. Though we should see this as contrary to intention—isn’t it great watching the rich guy squirm?—Gere is touchingly pathetic, begging, leaving frustrated. No one wants to see a grown man cry, but then as someone references, he’s sure to have plenty of jack stashed in off-shore accounts, he’ll survive. Then, there is his later desire and (limited) effort to exonerate Jimmy. But he’s unwilling to give himself up to do it.

In the end, Gere beats the charges, Jimmy gets off on an implausible bit of evidence tampering, but it’s his wife gives him his comeuppance, delivering divorce papers and as his alibi for the night of the accident, blackmailing him into signing over everything he has to her non-profit organization. After getting away with treachery of the highest order it’s the family he neglected that brought him down in the end.

Is this really supposed the be a story the moral conflict of a middle-aged one-percenter who ironically thinks he is motivated by benevolence? By the end, the film has resorted to cliché. “Everything I do is for this family!” shouts an exasperated Gere to his wife. If Arbitrage were a success, the viewer might actually wonder whether or not that statement is true. As it is, it seems ridiculous. Gere’s Miller is obviously motivated by selfishness. So Wall Street is all about greed and selfishness? How profound.

How compelling the story might have been as told by Sarandon or Parker. Malick got away with using Gere as an amoral protagonist in a film where story was in the background and the victim of his evil was himself an whip-cracking wheat baron. Here, are set up to hate Gere from the beginning, not only because he’s the guy who has it all, but because he is precisely the guy who prospered at the expense of ordinary Americans.

Helplessness and clawing for survival is far more interesting that clinging to millions. Aren’t we supposed to like underdogs? This is, after all a new day and perspective is exactly what empowers the female and the minority in the face of the white-male whose grip on control is ever-loosening.

As it is they are both paid to keep their mouths shut. If we could see things through their eyes instead, we’d see them taking it away.


Blood erupts from bludgeoned bodies like the murky water of a pond disturbed by tossed stones. It coats the virgin white flowers of a spring meadow when a man on horseback is shot. It is smeared, by a sleezy Leonardo DiCaprio across Kerry Washington’s beautiful and terrified face. One loses track of the body count somewhere in the neighborhood of the second act as one by one, slave owners drop in montage and quick cuts just as fast and Jamie Foxx can pull the trigger.

It would be naïve to react with shock at the overwhelming brutality of a Quentin Tarantino picture, after all without the appropriate amount sadism, murder and racism, viewers would feel somewhat betrayed.  Kill Bill: Volume 1 probably had a body count higher than Django, and its most violent scenes took on a (sometimes literally) cartoonish quality. In the same way as Tarantino’s first four films, it existed in a world that was fabricated, representing no particular time-period in a hyper-stylized version of a place (Kurasawa’s Tokyo, Ford’s Texas desert, etc.). With Django and Inglorious Basterds before it, Tarantino has placed the revenge theme in historical context in a way designed to strike a tender chord easily accessible in the American psyche. He has one purpose: to make the viewer feel comfortable with all that blood.

With the exception of a few unfortunate innocents—some “mandingo fighters” and of course, Cristoph Waltz’s smooth talking vigilante—the overwhelming majority of slaughtered souls have one thing in common. They are all ugly, remorseless caricatures who exist in a dimension as emotionally distant as Tarantino’s gorgeous and classic panoramic shots. These guys had it coming, and in this frontier justice, we are meant to delight. But there is tragic miscalculation: The Holocaust and American Slavery remain the two titans of American shame and emotional suffering and continue to affect us all on a personal and visceral level. We don’t want to see these things downgraded to vehicles for style. These topics must be handled with care.

If we are to simply address the ideas of good and evil as stock entities and polarized opposites, it becomes very easy to identify with the dashing, gun-slinger who clearly represents good. Tarantino, the film historian, asks us to consider the Western, the Blaxploitation film and the Revenge Plot as vehicles for this purpose. Of course the characters have limited emotional depth or psychological motivation or fear—they are not meant to represent actual people like you and me, just idealized form. The film explicitly references Seigfried and Broomhilda, but unlike the epic tale, Jamie Foxx’s hero has no tragic flaw. The minute he jumps on a horse, he is unstoppable, unflappable and unrelatable. There is nothing about American slavery as emotionally simple as that.

There is a moment early in the second act where Django is reluctant to kill a target because the man’s son is with him. Convinced by Schultz that this is the job, he finally pulls the trigger, dutiful but reluctant. When later, he poses as a Black slave-trader, he treats the slaves with coldness and brutality. As Schultz questions his behavior, he defiantly references the earlier incident. Is there a moral dilemma here? Maybe Django has actually become the sinister character he is portraying. Maybe there is a deeper, institutionalized self-loathing that is manifest in his treatment of his black brothers who remind him of what he really is. Maybe he is so consumed with personal revenge that it transcends the hatred he feels for the system that brutalized him.

We never find out.

There is no suggestion that any of these potentially meaty themes are resolved or considered as Django systematically liberates Broomhilda and destroys Candieland and virtually everyone in it before riding off to moonlit freedom.

Django is not really engaged with the world that makes up the plot. He is inadequately hurt, enthralled, joyous or reluctant. If you seek to feel some sense of remorse or self-doubt or the sort we all feel every day, than you won’t find it here or in anything this talented auteur has done in fifteen years. Maybe some day.

On Gene Kelly’s 100th birthday, I found myself seated in the dentist’s chair, overwhelmed by that robust anxiety that cannot be ignored, suppressed or rationalized— it is that feeling beyond fear and apprehension: the anticipation, the expectation of pain.

Sure, this is the twenty-first century and dental technology has come so far as to make actual pain largely psychological. (just think of the sound of that drill and tell me you don’t feel at least a little pinch). But beyond that is the utter invasiveness of a series of tools and gauze and clamps and fingers in your mouth for over an hour. This infringement on personal space is one of the most grotesque procedures a person can endure and perhaps the physical pain we dread is actually only a projection of the greater fear of personal violation.

Whatever the reason, any dental experience becomes precisely the stark reality we try to transcend (if not avoid entirely). There are some pleasures in life — a first kiss, a home run, a good tiramisu — we try to relive long after they occur. These were experiences that ended before we were finished with them; they happened in a flash, but they exist forever in our minds and on our tongues.

An experience like a trip to the dentist exists on the other end of the same spectrum. It is a memorable experience all right, but it’s one we’d rather forget even as it’s happening.

The way I manage to do this is to try to create an out of body experience, to leave my body entirely. I am not particularly religious, but I believe I am capable of separating body and mind. I think of it as spacing out. Nothing helps me do this like cinema. My dentist understands this and allows me to watch television while he has his way with my ailing bicuspids. I always go straight for TCM.

It’s hard to understand, in a visual sense, what’s happening with my mouth. You usually can’t see most of your teeth without really examining them in earnest. For this reason, it’s hard to picture the various foreign feelings going on when the dentist is at work; combine this with a local anesthetic and it adds up to a very peculiar blend of unpleasant sensations. Meanwhile, for the dentist and hygienist, this is the equivalent of routine paperwork. The drill buzzes away, they’re chatting about their weekends and of course, the patient can’t talk, so they don’t really bother talking to the patient.

So where does this leave the individual trapped inside a restrained and vulnerable body? In the perfect position to drift away into fantasy.

To honor the great star of  Singin’ In The Rain and An American In Paris TCM was airing a marathon of Kelly pictures. I am hardly the world’s biggest fan of musicals and I have to admit that I have seen only a tiny percentage of Kelly’s body of work, so had I been on my own couch channel surfing, I probably wouldn’t have settled on The Pirate from 1948 starring Kelly and Judy Garland. I was, however, immobile and practically forced to watch, i.e. A Clockwork Orange. When I turned it on, the movie was already into the third act. I could only hear bits and pieces of the dialogue over the buzzing drill and grinding away of my damaged enamel so I had no idea what was happening in the way of story. All I saw was a confused Judy Garland, a corpulent villain, the dashing Kelly and a bunch of extras.


Then I saw this:

I became mesmerized by Kelly’s skill. Not only was I captivated by his charm and suave demeanor, I was in awe, perplexed even, at the athleticism and precision of his dancing. I was no longer in a dentist’s chair. I was no longer a part of the planet or the human race. Everything stopped and this ridiculous, yet masterful dance was suddenly the only thing that existed.

“Uh oh,” said the dentist. A statement which must certainly be banned ADA. Turns out once he’d removed the damaged filling, there was more decay than he realized and darned if the damage wasn’t right over the nerve.

“Let me know if you need more juice,” he said holding up the novacane needle. I glanced at the female hygienist and told him I’d be fine without it.

“Suit yourself,” he said firing up the drill.

Now the pain was more than just psychological. I tried to think of anything else: the Phillies, my girlfriend, the Pleiades. I tried to get back into The Pirate but things on the screen had gotten intense too! Now all the extras were attacking Gene Kelly with pies and juggling pins and there was pandemonium in my mouth, in the movie, in Syria. Everything was totally fucked!

It was Judy Garland to the rescue:

I won’t say it felt any better, but at least I had a distraction. Was The Pirate the conveyor of any great truth of the human experience? Did it seek to create some exaggerated form of emotion like in Fellini or Sirk? Was it in any way a literal reflection of the tragic, beautiful lives of Men and Women?


But it got me out of that chair and out of the masochistic ritual of decay, aging and the decades of brutal maintenance to come. I was at my quota of the real world. I needed fantasy that existed only for its own sake. Artifice was the only truth. The rest was chaos.

At one point, the dentist took a break and glanced at the screen.

“An oldie, huh?” I swear he rolled his eyes at the hygienist.

He’d obviously spent too much time on the other side of the drill.

If you’re ever on the run, Matt Damon is probably on the short list of individuals you’d want with you.

Lately my dreams have been frequent and vivid, so I considered myself lucky when the other night Damon and I, along with two women were trying to escape the end of the world.

Tough to contain.

The End of the World was a dark cloud which moved visibly like a thunderhead, but unlike a normal cloud it caused everything mechanical to explode in its wake and it could morph like in Terminator 2: Judgement Day., our fearless, but type-A-to-a-fault leader suspected the women of slowing us down, riding our coattails to survival, and he kept trying to talk me into ditching them before they got us all killed. I wouldn’t have it. I was the sensitive peace-maker, comforter of the shy, vulnerable girl and diplomat between the feisty bitch and the ill-tempered Damon.

There are never transitions in my dreams.

We find ourselves in an abandoned skyscraper. The End of the World has taken the form of an amorphous being, like the Blob, but gaseous. We thunder up the stairs but It’s is right on our heels. The shy woman falls; I stop and Damon yells at me to leave her but I won’t listen, I scoop her up and carry her, because you know what? Sometimes even Damon is wrong and during a crisis, you have to follow your instincts.

We find safety in a room that is undergoing renovations and covered with plastic and littered with paint cans and tools. It’s getting dark. Despite Damon’s warnings, the feisty bitch fiddles with a lamp and it explodes, vaporizing her.

“Goddamn it!” exclaims Damon, pounding the wall with his fist. “We have to move. Now!” This is why Damon is so great. He’s upset that the feisty bitch is dead even though he hated her.

We’ve escaped the end of the world, and so has Manhattan. We meet Damon’s father at a lovely café in Greenwich Village. And man, I thought Damon was a hard ass. Damon Sr. and I get into a heated argument about Jack Lemmon. Martin Scorsese arrives, orders a macchiato and mediates the argument. Though I feel the content of my argument is far more sound than Sr.’s, he is much louder and demonstrative and I think this resonates with Scorsese who grabs Sr.’s wrist and raises his arm to indicate victory.

“Way to go, Pop!” says Damon.

I don’t try to fight it. I don’t actually have that strong an opinion about Lemmon, I’m just happy to be alive.


Inside the old theater, austere and immense, a haze of tobacco creates an aura of the surreal. Mia Farrow fidgets in her seat, along with the other patrons, waiting for the picture to begin as if it is the only thing that matters in the world. Already, they are completely engrossed by what they are about to see on the giant screen, larger than life. As the movie begins, her eyes reflect the light from the screen and sparkle as she takes in the wide-eyed adventurer, young Jeff Daniels in khaki and pith helmet and the glossy Manhattanites in tuxedos and gowns, sipping Martinis at the Copa Cabana. She is utterly entranced by the perfection of the enormous black and white world before her.

Outside the theater, the world is bleak, cold and grey. She lives in a manufacturing town in New Jersey and the Depression is on. Her husband is lazy, unfaithful and abusive. Unemployed, he relies on her job waiting tables at a shabby diner to support them while he shoots dice, drinks and womanizes. At the diner customers and her boss yell at her because lost in the reverie of daydreams she is always a step behind, careless and dropping plates. These daydreams, we see, are not merely a hindrance, or mark of irresponsibility, but the very thing that enables her to get through a miserable reality.

At one point, even people in the movies had imperfect teeth. Watch something as recent as the 80s or early 90s and you’ll see coffee and nicotine stained off-whites and beige tints behind even the most glamorous red lips.

Totally fixable.

Granted, there are fewer smokers in Hollywood these days, but there has been an utter scourge of unnaturally perfect teeth on and off the silver screen. As smokers are pushed further and further into the margins of society and coffee is replaced by energy drinks and adderall, the staining of teeth is at an all-time low. Combine this with the easy access to over-the-counter whitening treatments along with the full-court press of professional treatments at the dentist and voila: we find ourselves in period of perfect-looking teeth, an illusion of vitality and perfection we can reveal to the world with a generous grin.

At the dentist last week, I was dismayed to get the news (delivered through the blinding whiteness of my dentist’s smile) that I had two cavities, both related to the breaking of fillings. I try hard to take care of my teeth but I have many fillings and they will continue to break for the rest of my life, trapping bacteria and forever creating a tiny reminder of the human condition.

“This one down here is next in line,” he said, poking at a molar on my lower left side. “We’ll probably be looking at a crown, but that can wait another six months.” He examined my front teeth. “You should consider some orthodontic work,” he said. “Your lower arch is collapsing and causing the front teeth to wear down. Before long, you won’t have anything left.” I cringed. “Don’t worry, forget about those old-fashioned metal braces. Have you heard of Invisa-line?” He looked over at the hygienist. “Diane, see that he gets some literature to take home before he leaves.” He exhaled conclusively and returned his attention to me. “But other than that, everything looks good!”

I scheduled another appointment and readied myself for the fear, the discomfort and the unbelievable cost that awaited me.

Still got it.

This is the reality of my mouth. A reality that despite brushing three times day, flossing and rinsing with antiseptic will only get bleaker as I get older. Then, the rest of my body will follow, sore joints, torn muscles, strained ligament, high blood pressure and God knows what else before finally, I’m spending my days in an easy chair, surrounded by prescription pill bottles, waiting to die.

When Jeff Daniels, the handsome and esteemed archeologist, jumps off the screen and offers Mia Farrow an opportunity to join him in the world of Hollywood fantasy, she turns it down for the promise of a real-life fantasy fulfillment with the actor that plays him. The latter fantasy proves to be a mere charade, a ruse played by the masterful actor as a way to trick his character into going back where he came from.

In the movies, everyone has perfect teeth. Everyone stays young, strong, beautiful and happy forever, immortalized for all time in their idealized roles. We can have teeth like that: white, perfect and smiling, but despite the illusion, ours always decay.