One Sunday night last June, I took myself to see A Bigger Splash at BAM. At the time I was debating whether or not I should actually follow through on a crazy idea that had popped into my head days before: to spend six weeks living and working from Rome. I walked out of the theater somewhat unable to breathe, and wrote this on Letterboxd:
You know that guy you dated at some point, probably in your early 20s, who you were so viscerally attracted to that it fried your ability to be objective about any aspect of his character? That's how I feel about pretty much every single aspect of this movie. I'm not even going to try to give it a star rating or write a real review. It might be absolute trash, but the only thing I can feel about it is OH. GOD. YES.
A few days later I booked my ticket. It's an oversimplification, but in my mind that action is inseparable from seeing the movie. I later continued:
I think I had this reaction to the film because its sensual gaze seems to transcend any specificity of gender, orientation, or personal sensibility. I mean this to encompass not just humans and literal sexuality, but the film's entire framework. Anthony Lane's review in the New Yorker referred to it as pagan or Dionysian, and I think that's pretty accurate. It invites you to consume everything on the screen and also, to participate in the revulsion and hysteria that comes with that kind of loss of faculties -- that hangover from going farther than the thinking part of you wants, or being seduced into participation in something you objectively revile. Even in the moments where what you see kind of grosses you out, you still want to crawl into the screen and touch it. Literally, with your own skin. And in the moments where what you see is something you would objectively desire, the intensity of it is almost unbearable.
I have a hyperactive imagination, a long-term fascination with hedonism, and have always felt that vicarious experience is a sort of lie – you’re either having an experience, or you're watching someone else have the experience while not having it yourself. But I have a lot of trouble with risk, and this has always given me a fraught relationship with movies that provide fantasies I find appealing – usually the gorgeous, sensual, location-driven sort. I get consumed by them, in part because they represent things that in the past I’ve found excuses not to pursue.
My trouble is I fall in love with every pretty thing, says Dakota Johnson, to and about Matthias Schoenaerts. I've aged out of saying dumb shit like that, but if Tilda Swinton is fucking Matthias Schoenaerts in Pantelleria, then I want to go to Sicily and fuck... someone attractive, hopefully. Or at least to go to Italy and Malta and be receptive to beauty and experience, so that I don't have to watch movies like A Bigger Splash and feel threatened by all the lives I don't get to live.
Mine needs to be enough.