Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Pawnbroker and Mr. X

One of the most poignant moments in the history of film takes place about three minutes into The Pawnbroker, and coincides with the arrival of X. He shuffles into Cal Nazerman’s shop, extending a tatty lamp towards the pawnbroker. Before he has set it down on the counter, Nazerman has already started the transaction, mechanically going through the motions. With the lamp off his hands, X eagerly yet tentatively shares his thoughts on Herbert Spencer’s Genesis of science with the robot Nazerman. “I particularly like his insistence that science is born of art, not the other way around. To me, this was refreshing, coming from a man who most modern thinkers call old-fashioned.”
Several attempts at response or at least eye-contact fail utterly, and as his speech reaches its Pythagorean climax, Nazerman curtly and silently places his two dollars on the counter. X sees them, but doesn’t want to acknowledge them, knowing that their acceptance will mean the end of this meeting. Then, stuttering, embarrassed at his evidently uninteresting revelation, he confesses “From time to time I like to drop in here, cuz Mr Nazerman, a man gets hungry for talk, good talk...”
“There’s your ticket, and there’s your two dollars,” Nazerman informs him curtly. His short, staccato and precise speech contrasts starkly with X’s laborious, stumbling but empathic voice.
X snaps out of his semi-reverie and mumbles “Naturally, Mr Nazerman, two dollars will be quite alright.”
This last negation of his efforts is too much for the poor man, and his face loses that lively, enthusiastic look. In its place appears a disillusioned, dejected and guilty face. Backing away disappointedly, he says “I, I apologise for, for talking (emphasised with a little throwaway arm movement) so much, Mr Nazerman.”  He is disappointed, but crucially not with the cold and distant Mr Nazerman, but with himself, for having burdened himself on Nazerman. More words come to his mouth, but he is unable to express them. “Forgive me.”
With these words, the sorriest and saddest man I have ever seen hurries out of the Pawnbroker.

Have you ever?

He was walking down the street, in a pensive mood, pondering a line from a song he had heard while passing the open doors of a department store, its melody drifting through the air like smoke from a cigarette, until it finally dissolved into the surrounding bustle of the city. Cars were spluttering, sirens were screaming and thousands of people tramped on the concrete, like a squadron of ants marching to their anthill. The resulting noise was a chaotic cacophony, a composition that never took shape, a tune that was eternally tuneless.

He hated the city. It was not just the noise - he had become accustomed to that after a while. It was the whole atmosphere of the place or, to be more precise, the lack of it that he detested. It was dark and depressing, as if it was enveloped permanently in the shadow of some great unknown. The buildings towered over him as if he was being constantly stalked or observed. The streets were cold and comfortless, filled with people who were impersonal and aloof. He felt claustrophobic being hemmed in on all sides by concrete.

He disliked the underground too: so many people sitting next to one another, people with potentially exciting characters and yet always choosing to conceal their interior from the outside world like drawn venetian blinds in a window. The mood struck him as morose, akin to sitting at a funeral, everyone avoiding each other’s eyes and anxious to suppress any exuberant emotions. Instead, all played the part of silent bystanders, respectful of  those no longer amongst them.

In the city, people were mourning the very absence of soul.

Family, friends and all those who held him dear, we are gathered here today to pay our last respects to The Soul of the City. His passing has robbed us of a much-loved character who can never be replaced. He will be sorely missed by all...

Have you ever been to a place where there’s no love inside?

He certainly had, he was there right now. But despite his revulsion for the Great Gloom (as he called the city) he never thought about leaving. He had been here so long, ever since the day he was enticed in its direction, then ensnared by it, bound to the city like man to fate.

It hadn’t always been this way, he sorrowfully reminisced. He thought back to the time before Here and Now, before he had lost his soul to the Great Gloom. He liked to refer to that time as the Light. In the Light he had known happiness, fulfillment, an oasis of bliss. It seemed like an idyllic Golden Age, a Garden of Eden, the likes of which many could but dream of.

He couldn’t bear to think long about the Light however, and before long nostalgia would tend to be replaced by an oppressive melancholy, which effectively blotted out any last hint of sunshine in his spirit.

Heavy-heartedly he resigned himself to a future as a prisoner of darkness, stuck in his misery like a mouse running endlessly in a tread-mill, whose only choice is to plod on and on. All he longed for was one trivial but unobtainable pleasure: the rosy-fingered touch of the Light on his body and soul.