October 25, 1971 [The Last Picture Show]

I saw The Last Picture Show, and on the way out of the theater I heard someone make a crack: “Peyton Place with tumbleweeds.” But in the end all those couplings don’t matter; it’s not a picture that wants me to think about sex--or not just sex, but the yearning, the loss, the desire to drive to it and have it be there, waiting: the thing desired, the moment that softens the lines in your face--suddenly aware you’ve been straining, trying not to fall down, and so your face is tight with the fear that the next moment will tip you over.

When Sonny gets in his car and drives, his foot pressing down on the accelerator, his mop of hair scattered with the wind, I wanted the movie to end, to see him just go. But he has to return to Ruth; everything else is dead; the price he pays for growing up is to be free of everything he loves. And she shouts at him, and tells him the bitter truth, and he takes it--like something out of a real tragedy, the beaten hero hoping one person remains to hold his hand, to murmur something to help him be still.

And as the picture ended, and the wind moved us slowly to the empty movie theater, I knew I’d be walking out of that movie myself, followed by all of them--all gone, but all here. In “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Whitman assures us, “I consider’d long and seriously of you before you were born.” Sonny and Ruth (Cloris Leachman; fifteen years ago in Kiss Me Deadly she told Ralph Meeker, "Remember me") and lost Duane and foolish Jacy--and maybe most of all Sam the Lion, Ben Johnson rising up from a cowboy picture that looked West but never got there--they consider us, too, and make me want to do the same.


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