Films have a funny way of entering one’s life at just the right time. Take Louis Malle’s 1981 gem, My Dinner with Andre, for example. This film’s inclusion on this year’s Blind Spot list has more to do with a pop culture reference than the critical praise heaped on the film. If I am to be honest, the main reason I was so intrigued to see Malle’s classic was because Community, a show I loved, had dedicated an entire episode in homage to the film.
Regardless of my lingering selfish desire to finally be in the know in terms of understanding all of the episode’s “in-jokes”, My Dinner with Andre turned out to be the film, almost serendipitously in fact, I needed to see at this point in my life. It arrived like lightening breaking up the thunderous noise of fear and doubt that had filled my mind.
In the past few weeks changes at home and work, the two most consistent markers of personal evolution it seems, have forced me to become rather introspective. Questions and more questions have arisen with no clear answers. I cannot help but wonder, could I be doing more with my life? Am I maximizing the most out of my potential? Am I being the best father I can be to my son? How about the best husband to my wife? Is my job fulfilling me the way I need it to? Or am I merely spinning my wheels? Is blogging about films truly a satisfying venture? Or am grasping for some type of validation that doesn’t actually exist? Could I be better using the time I spend watching movies elsewhere? Etc.
My gut reaction was to suppress such thoughts with simple pick-me-up jargon like “it’ll be alright” or “you don’t realize how good you have it?” While the latter may be true, it did little to tackle the hard questions at hand.
Thankfully, My Dinner with Andre is all about confronting everything that makes us who we are…insecurities and all.
The intimate film – the bulk of the proceedings take place at a single table in a posh New York restaurant – involves Wallace (Wallace Shawn), a 36-year-old playwright and actor, whose career has fallen on hard times. Reluctantly, he agrees to meet his old colleague Andre (Andre Gregory), who has returned to the city after a lengthy absence, for dinner. Once a revered and successful playwright, Andre experienced what can only be described, in Wallace’s eyes at least, as a mental breakdown. Leaving fame and fortune behind, Andre decided to aimlessly travel the world in search of his true purpose. Over the course of dinner, Wallace is treated to the tale of Andre’s experiences, some of which are so fantastical that their validity seems questionable, and begins to look at their friendship, and his own life, in a whole new light.
If one of the marks of a great film is its ability to feel timeless, then My Dinner with Andre fits the bill. Similar to the cinematic medium it uses to convey its message, though its structure initially seems more suited for the stage, the film is all about connection. Fully connecting with one’s self. As outlandish as Andre’s story is at times, even he, the story teller, cannot help but be repulsed by his own narrative.
In fact he finds his life up to the point of his “strange period” to be horrific. It was on his journey that he realized that the only way to achieve true happiness and enlightenment was to block out all the noise and listen to the voice from within. This is a simple solution in theory, but an act that requires much determination to achieve in reality. For eliminating the external voices means rethinking everything one has been socially taught.
My Dinner with Andre presents a view of a world where everyone is travelling in a status obsessed fog. One in which we are all merely actors attempting to play preconceived parts. Though Louis Malle’s film was observing society in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the commentary feels extremely timely today. Now more than it ever it feels like we are all striving towards goals that, while praise worthy in the eyes others, does little to increase our overall well-being and happiness. Living in an age where one’s online presence is increasingly becoming the thing that defines individuals, presenting a carefully constructed, though ultimately false, version of oneself has become the norm.
Frankly, even the act of watching a film where two people simply sit at a table and talk for two hours feels foreign. I cannot recall a time where I was out to dinner with friends and did not observe at least one person texting on their phones or checking social media during conversation. Which is the point of Malle’s film, we have lost the art of connecting with ourselves and, by extension, others. We no longer know how to express our feelings or confront our fears. Instead we try to bury it all underneath the steps of an endlessly unattainable façade.
My Dinner with Andre is a much needed reminder that we all need to spend more time embracing that little voice within and less time striving for what others expect us to be. Now excuse me, I need to go and spend time reconnecting with my true self.