Friday Fave: Mindwalk


I have always thought of my emotional and intellectual development in terms of what books I read at a certain age, and the impact that these have had on me in shaping my reaction to this or that event in my personal life or in the world. One of the few things that doesn’t fit on this shelf–do try to keep a few if not all of these books with me physically, even if I’m only away for a few days or weeks–is the film Mindwalk. It saw it when I was 14, and it completely overwhelmed me. It was made in 1990: the footage is positively grainy now, the transfer from VHS to streaming has made the music a bit wobbly in parts, and Sam Waterston is startlingly youthful–this was a few years before his role on Law & Order, and even in that short time he seemed to age quite a bit–but the content remains distressingly relevant.

I remember reading a review of the film that dismissed it as more of a lecture than a story, and I have never ceased to resent that. The setting of the conversation is important, as is the presence of the different voices; to cast it as a lecture strips away the element of questioning of self, society, and politics that is core purpose of the film. You can listen to it as an audio drama, but leaving out the footage of Mont Saint Michel loses a lot of the scenery that illustrates the most pertinent aspects of the discussion. (It’s also just a gorgeous place to look at, whether or not you’ve been there in person.)

The film introduced me to the poetry of Pablo Neruda, and was one of my early introductions to Renaissance philosophy. It touches on a dozen other things that have become central points of the national and international conversation, not least climate change and mental health. One line that burned itself into my memory when I re-watched as an older teenager is Sam Waterston’s character’s comment that “American voters want their leaders to be dumber than they are. They figure they’ll do less harm that way.” As an adult I have always found the first part of this statement to be perfectly true; the problem is that such leaders invariably do much more harm than the more intelligent ones, as we are now all witness to. It would be wonderful if this miserable administration could at least serve to convince people to see Trump and his ilk for what they are, but I have a feeling his true believers are going to go on supporting him no matter what folly he drags the country into.

It has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray, but with a number of European films I loved as a teenager suddenly becoming available on digital, I hold out hope that this will be remastered and released as well. Until then, it’s available here.

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