A very interesting look how a boy became a man..enjoy..
Yours truly first laid eyes on my wife, Karen, when we were both nine-years-old, students in Yeshiva of Flatbush elementary school. Thus began a love affair that defined and continues to define my existence.
The time has come to introduce Karen to Akira Kurosawa. The time has come to introduce Karen to the single most important movie in my life, the film that shaped my consciousness, the film that turned me from a directionless yeshiva student into a rabid film fanatic, a screenwriter.
Yes, The Seven Samurai is playing at The Thalia, New York’s’ classic movie theater on Broadway between 94th and 95th Streets. I’ve invited Karen to see it with me. Keep in mind, this is 1976, ancient days. There are no videos, no DVD’s, no personal computers, and hard to imagine, no internet. To see a classic film, you must rush to Manhattan, to one of the revival houses, and hope that the print they screen is half-way decent. And with Japanese films, the biggest problem is the subtitles. Frequently, they are illegible.
As we stand on line to purchase tickets, Karen quizzes me about the film.
“What’s it about?”
“Courage and loyalty in 16th century Japan.”
“Does it have a… plot?”
“Oh, yes, several very strong plots running parallel to one another. Don’t worry, it’s a foreign film, but you’ll find that all the emotions are completely familiar.”
Karen looks a bit skeptical. By now she knows me well enough to recognize that my take on reality is not all that real.
“How long is it?”
“We’re incredibly lucky, Karen,” I enthuse, “This doesn’t happen very often but we’re actually getting to see the original three-hour version! Isn’t that great!?”
Karen smiles, but her smile is strained.
I’m not worried. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that once the film gets going she’ll be caught up in the magnificent imagery, in the classic story-telling, in the heroic, tragic characters. Once Karen imbibes this film, our relationship will be sealed.
The house lights dim and chills run up and down my spine as the opening shots of The Seven Samurai thunder across the screen. Karen is at full attention, her spine is rigid, she sits straight as a pilaster, like a proud Japanese princess.
A half-hour into the film Karen is:
idly toying with her split ends. I am incredulous, in shock, awash in a psychic pain that I never knew existed. How is this possible?
Slumped in her seat, Karen is the portrait of a a bored student. My heart is actually pattering in my chest at twice its normal rate. I am twenty-five years old and I’m pretty sure that I’m having a massive heart attack.
A few years ago, I told a friend that I could never love a woman who didn’t love The Seven Samurai. Not only did I say it, but I believed it.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” says Karen, “I need to take a break.”
“There’s a break at the hour-and-a-half point,” I lamely point out.
“I need it now,” Karen says quite evenly with no hint of rancor.
Karen exits to the lobby.
I feel like committing hara-kiri.
In the dark, I gaze at my beloved and outnumbered Samurai warriors; even unto death they maintain their orthodox code of honor. There is something very Jewish about these men and their stubborn refusal to give up their way of life. This film has changed my life, made of me a screenwriter, a writer with a vision.
What to do?
The images no longer cohere for now I see Karen, nine-years old, on the day she first transferred from Yeshiva Ohel Moshe to Yeshiva Flatbush, the day I, also nine-years old, fell in love with her; now I see her leaning against the chain link fence during recess, pressing her linen handkerchief against unnaturally pale lips; there she is, years later, when we meet in Summer camp and exchange a few awkward sentences; and again I spot her at a high school basketball game. Karen has no idea how I feel. What am I saying? She has no idea that I even exist.
This life of mine can easily slip into utter catastrophe.
Karen’s image splits and flies away; there she is, up on the screen in full close-up. I love her, have always loved her. And this moment, this film, this decision that I’m about to make will define the balance of my life.
The Samurai speak of Bushido, the soul of the warrior, the perpetual struggle to maintain honor and dignity, the fight to recognize your true inner-self. I catch a glimpse of my Bushido. It’s in danger of being crushed… by yours truly.
I bolt from my seat and follow Karen into the lobby. Sitting on a bench, she looks sad.
“I know how much this movie means to you,” says Karen.
“It doesn’t matter,” I respond.
And it doesn’t.
In a moment of perfect clarity I have gone from being a boy to a man.
Morally, I have matured, been forced by this honest and most unpretentious of women, to reorder my priorities.
I took another young lady to see The Seven Samurai and she told me that she adored it. “It’s fantastic,” she gushed. But in the darkness I felt her boredom, sensed her incredible yearning for the film to end. She was just saying what she knew I wanted to hear.
Karen cannot lie. Karen is constitutionally unable to say that she admires something when she just plain doesn’t like it.
To this day, when I slip the DVD of The Seven Samurai into the player, Karen beats a hasty retreat.
This night, this moment, I understand that admiring or despising The Seven Samurai—any movie—has nothing to do with the guts of a relationship. If you look closely, it’s just superficial aesthetics.
Admiring or disliking a movie or a book or painting or a song or whatever—is not a reliable indicator of the strength of a relationship.
Love—real love and lasting relationships—are built on shared values.
Karen knows how important this movie is to me. But because this film is so central to my life she cannot bring herself to pretend that she likes it. In fact, the way I feel about The Sound of Music is how she feels about The Seven Samurai.
I bid goodbye to The Seven Samurai.
We do not stay for the rest of the film.
We exit the theater.
“You wanna know how it ends?”
Karen smiles. “Not really.”
Walking along Broadway, Karen searches my face for some indication of what I’m feeling, some hint of what my reaction is to her reaction.
As we walk away from the movie theater, I discover that I feel lighter, unburdened, and gee-willikers, I’m grinning hugely. I smile because at long last I’m able to bid goodbye to my youth. Karen’s perfect scrupulousness, her Female/Jewish/Samurai personae has, as I have long suspected, compelled me to become not just a man—but a better man.
Copyright © Robert J. Avrech