One of my former teachers at Trinity Academy, Mr. Horner, teaches philosophy senior year. One of the books we read in that class is Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. I remember Mr. Horner saying that he rereads this book during the time of Mardi Gras (when the book takes place). In light of that, I decided to read the book this year during the week of Mardi Gras. I would say reread it, but in all honesty I never read it. And it’s a shame I didn’t since I always enjoyed the discussion. For any and all students of Trinity, do your reading and enjoy your education while you are there. You’ll never experience that portion of life again, so relish that gift while in the midst of it. And as someone who rediscovered his love for literature in the past year, I wish that I had embraced the literature that Trinity taught us.
But enough with my lamentations of time wasted and onto my contemplations from reading The Moviegoer.
The Moviegoer follows Binx during the week of Mardi Gras leading up to his 30th birthday. He is a New Orleans stock broker who lives his life on ‘the search’. This search is for life’s meaning, striving to escape the everydayness and malaise. Everydayness is easy to infer a definition from; it’s basically the boring repetition that comes with every single day. It’s the part of life that seems like a never ending drag (like school for some). Malaise however is not easy to understand. It’s defined as an overall feeling of weakness, typically without a known cause. It’s one of my favorite words because it allows me to label those days and periods in life where I’m just not feeling great. Binx gives his own definition of malaise which I find quite intriguing:
“The malaise is the pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and the world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo’s ghost.”
For those who need a reminder like myself, Banquo was a character from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. And upon his death, he came back and appeared to Macbeth as a ghost. Banquo’s ghost serves as a reminder for Macbeth of his sins, his depravity, and his moral downfall. And Binx labels this ghost as almost unimportant to the world. But Banquo’s ghost plays a vital part for Macbeth as the malaise does in our lives. It’s a reminder that we indeed need to not squander our lives of survival, but step out of our malaise into a life where we thrive. Binx mentions how malaise is the pain of loss, but it is not the loss of a person. When you lose someone, you know that their absence is causing your sorrow. This loss Binx is referring to is when you lose yourself, getting wrapped up in the depression that can arise from everydayness and malaise. And feeling this ought to be a reminder for us to pursue a better life.
Another character in the book is Binx’s cousin, or more specifically his Aunt’s stepdaughter, Kate. It’s important to make that distinction because the two become somewhat romantically involved, and knowing their is no blood relation removes a fear of incest between the two. While one can argue for their involvement being incest, I personally do not interpret that despite their close ties. However, the main thing to focus on with Kate is why she so regularly turns to Binx.
Kate regularly confided in Binx because she saw him as someone who knew his intention in life. His intentions were pretty shallow honestly; to watch movies, make money, and sleep with secretaries. Regardless, even if his intentions in life weren’t great, he still had them. She saw Binx as someone who could give her life direction, as she was constantly searching for direction. She was caught in her depression, constantly drinking or taking pills to drown her sorrows. But even if Binx wasn’t doing great, she still saw him as someone to give her life meaning. And seeing someone who can give her life direction, she understandably wants him in her life to guide her.
Another main character is Aunt Emily. She was left responsible for raising Binx after his father’s passing. She feels somewhat responsible for the “disappointment” that he has become. I remember when we came towards the end of the book, Mr. Horner read out a portion because he knew that most of us had not read it. The section he read was the nearly three straight pages where Aunt Emily rips into Binx for choosing to live in such mediocrity. Throughout her rant she suggests that Binx prizes his choice of mediocrity, listing all the values he has chosen to reject throughout his life. She finishes by asking him, “how did it happen that none of this ever meant anything to you?” He’s left dumbfounded, because he valued and pondered them but never did a thing about it. As they continue talking she’s left asking him:
“Don’t you love these things? Don’t you live by them?”
“What do you love? What do you live by?”
I am silent.
“Tell me where I have failed you.”
“What do you think is the purpose of life–to go to the movies and dally with every girl that comes along?”
It’s hard to interpret tone here, but all I infer out of this is resignation from Binx. He seems to have realized how much of his life he’s wasted by watching movies and chasing shallow relationships. He’s known of a better life and never been willing to pursue it.
This book understandably leads the reader in serious self-contemplation. The way I see it, we can all to a degree resonate with a character. We can feel like Binx, recognizing we’ve squandered the life we’ve lived by making excuses and choosing laziness. We can resonate with Kate and her recognition for someone to guide her out of her struggles. Or we can liken ourselves to Aunt Emily by seeing those around us choosing to not embrace the better life they know of. There’s so much more to each of these characters, and I’d implore each and every one of you to read Walker Percy’s novel.
It left me especially introspective, wanting to recognize the ways in which I should adjust my life. And as an Enneagram 4, it says a lot for me to be extra introspective. After all, I am introspective on a daily basis. Reading and writing about this book has just been a nice experience for me to let go to a degree. And whether anyone reads it or not, I don’t care too much. I just wrote this so I could somewhat reflect on the book I read across an entire week.
But after reading this I hope each and every one of you, like me, are willing to reflect on and improve their life because of this book.