If you must watch two white guys debate, make them Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory. My Dinner with Andre is a kaleidoscopic back and forth on philosophy that openly wonders after how to be truly alive, asking questions that may have seemed like pretentious prattle from a couple privileged Upper East Side elites in 1981, but have since become a matter of survival (albeit still coming from a place of whiteness).
It’s been almost 40 years since Wally and Andre sat at a dinner table, ordered quails and discussed the oncoming dark ages, our sleepwalking populous and the role that theatre, and art, can play to wake us up, if any.
These conversations, of course, have been going on since people had the ability to make art and conversation, but it always feels like life or death to me.
“I could always live in my art, but never in my life.” This line from Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata is what causes the titular Andre to sob in the street. Hearing about this from a friend is what compels Wally to have dinner with Andre even though he doesn’t want to.
If I were to rewrite that line into one that might make me sob in the street, it would be: “I could always live in movies, but never in my life.”
This is because movies are one of the only places where I relax, where I feel free to explore, often propelling me beyond what I’m seeing on screen. My favorite movies aren’t the ones with the cleverest plots, but the ones that inspire the most surprising trains of thought, the ones that send me beyond what I’m seeing. I may not always remember specific lines or moments from my favorite movies, but I do remember how they make me feel.
Movies like My Dinner with Andre help me unlock my subconscious fears or anxieties. In this case, the constant desire to escape, the need to get out (of America, of California, of habit) before it’s too late; my addiction to inspiration; my never-ending search for meaning without despite full well knowing that it comes from within; my yearning for journeys to every Everest or any cigar store to stumble upon some sort of secret to life.
Movies like My Dinner with Andre help me speak to something at the tip of my tongue, or reassure me that I’m not alone in my thoughts and fears. How the electric blanket of Los Angeles, the A/C unit, feels dangerous to me, how I feel it’s partly responsible for the economic and environmental disasters plaguing California right now because it’s enabled an untenable number of people to live in a desert not built for it, to do what is unsustainable. We no longer experience seasons, we no longer experience reality, and we are paying the price for it. But at the same time, how big of an asshole do I sound like? Because I agree with Wally. Life is hell, why shouldn’t we have an electric blanket, why shouldn’t we have A/C? Why shouldn’t we rely on creature comforts to help us survive?
Movies like My Dinner with Andre speak more directly or more honestly than I am able with my friends or family. This isn’t reality, unfortunately, but as Wally says, the best art brushes up against it.
Movies like My Dinner with Andre help me make connections and inspire me to do the same with my own work. Oftentimes, and by that, I mean every day, often every hour, every sentence, that sentiment feels like lip-service, a lie, a Sisyphean platitude meant to make me feel better.
Even after My Dinner with Andre, even after traveling to Europe, even after living in Mexico, even after falling in love, I still don’t know how to “change” myself, let alone the world.
But I do know that being direct, being honest, being unafraid to have conversations without simple answers is a good place to start, and that I need to work on living that, I need to work on turning all this talk into action lest I become the kind of pretentious prattlers My Dinner with Andre is in part skewering.
I know that for two hours with Andre and Wally, I felt part of a salon where asking questions without answers didn’t bring with it judgment, where multiple facets of my personality were allowed to play. For two hours, I felt a little less alone.
For more My Dinner with Andre, tune in to this week’s episode of Gossip Guys pod.