June 20, 1987 [Withnail & I]

Withnail and I reminds me that, sometime in college or during those first years on one’s own, one comes to know--or becomes--either a Withnail, old before one’s time, in despair and drenched in drink and other fuming substances, immense talents drowned in grey rain, or an “I” (Marwood in the movie), drawn along in some fear (and joy), the mild friend whose warning voice, reasonable despite its hint of panic, fades as that rain falls.

But for a while, what fun it was to watch the two of them wander about, their tanks filled with various spirits, the single headlight of their Jaguar--so beat up that it seemed a parody of decrepitude, an emblem of the (hopefully) temporary poverty of youth--sometimes winking conspiratorially--or wincing--always on the verge of getting somewhere, there in 1968--and doesn’t every life have its 1968, no matter the calendar, standing on the end of a paved road, the tools in one’s own hands to keep building that road, but the route uncertain? I find my greatest, albeit most foolish, yearning is to be either ten or twenty again, the full-blown kid or the almost-adult to whom promises have not been made--just the promise of promises. And the poverty at twenty is like the riches of ten years old: nowhere to go, as the Beatles put it, oh that magic feeling.

But Marwood cuts his hair--and I know that moment, saw it just last year: one of my daughters’ friends was graduating; he had reminded me of Kris Kristofferson, right down to the beard and cascading hair and guitar; but a month or so before leaving college, he appeared clean-shaven and almost buttoned-down, ready to be the older man on the move with a new suitcase and a job and so on. Marwood goes through that same ritual, while Withnail stays behind--the better actor, one suspects, quoting Hamlet to open his palm and see the quintessence of dust he’s left to hold, his alone now. And I almost said something to him up there on the screen, almost tried some word of solace--but the rain it raineth every day, and he couldn’t hear me.


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