Watching Breach (2007) and Dan in Real Life (2007) While Depressed

I love the smell of a movie theater. I say this as someone who doesn’t eat the popcorn or the candy, and I don’t drink the soda. I used to eat donuts and McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches while I watched movies, all by myself in the theater where I worked. When I stopped working as a projectionist I couldn’t bear to go to the movies because the projectionists were so bad – they would show scratched prints out of focus and poorly framed, too loudly or too quietly. DVD movies on my computer screen were preferable to that, if not ideal. I’ve found digital projection to be a huge improvement, which surprises me. The colors are good, the scratches are gone and the picture is generally in focus (it HAS to be automatic.) So last night I was again in my sanctuary, mostly alone (there were seven or eight others in the auditorium with me, which provided a connection to the world but didn’t intrude on my solitude.)

The day started with another movie, this one an older release which I viewed on my computer. “Breach” is the dramatic retelling of the Robert Hanssen story; Hanssen was the former FBI agent who turned out to be the biggest traitor in US history. The story works well primarily because of the actors – Chris Cooper in particular is stunning as Hanssen. The screenplay is written from an omniscient viewpoint – the private actions of many characters are revealed at various points; at the same time, the audience is forced to connect with the young FBI operative who is tasked with obtaining key evidence against Hanssen. He is initially put off by Hanssen, but ultimately comes to respect the man and even considers him a mentor. This connection is key for the audience, because it allows us to appreciate the dramatic situation – the protagonist, in doing his duty, must sacrifice and risk what he values most in terms of his relationships and his own character. The montage at the climax of the film, where Hanssen is finally caught in the act of transferring information to the Soviets, is well executed and it brought me to tears. To be fair, I doubt many others watched this film as I did – I found the betrayal of the friendship between Hanssen and the protagonist to be excruciating, while others probably feel that justice was served (and perhaps not violently enough.) The final words of the film are Hanssen’s, as he is being led away in handcuffs: “Pray for me.” A complex and satisfying film.

The rest of the day was cold and blustery, and I worked from home. I managed to multi-task, writing a paper and an oral presentation for school on one computer while attending virtual meetings on another. When I wasn’t on the phone I was on the iPod… this thing is like heroin – I was injecting pure sappy love songs and they were making me high and miserable at the same time. I feel lately that I’ve lost my edge – I am dreadfully exposed and the slightest thing wounds me and sends me into a deep hole. The problem is that when I’m in the holes, I don’t want to come out. Little things help – oddly enough, smells seem to do it most consistently; the smell of the incipient cold weather in the air outside reminded me of some things that are still worth living for. And of course, there’s the smell of movie theaters.

“Dan in Real Life” is a romantic comedy. In the movie, Steve Carell plays Dan, a widower with three daughters. He meets Marie, a 40-something French woman (played by Juliet Binoche, one of my favorites) in a bookstore, and falls head over heels for her. The connection is mutual, but she is already seeing someone else; in the tradition of romantic comedies, “someone else” happens to be Dan’s brother, and they will all be staying in the same house together. I appreciated that the filmmakers played it mostly straight – there weren’t too many ridiculous situations designed to mine stupid comedy that insults the audience’s intelligence. As a result, “Dan in Real Life” is a movie about one guy’s pain when he’s faced with something he’s surprised to find that he wants more than anything, and it turns out to be something he’s not allowed to have. The writing hit very close to home for me, as in this scene, where Dan is explaining to his daughter that he knows exactly how it feels to be in love:

“Dad, you don’t even know what I’m feeling.”

“What, that you feel sick to your stomach whenever he’s around and it’s fantastic and awful at the same time… and you know for sure that you could be your best self if only you could be with that person…”

The scene is affecting because the entire house can overhear the conversation, and the camera lingers on Marie as she registers what he is saying. I also liked that Dan was allowed to be mean in his affected state – on a double date with his brother and Marie, Dan relishes dancing with an attractive woman because he knows it will get a reaction out of Marie, and it’s perhaps the only reaction he’s allowed to seek from her.

For the second time in a day, I found myself in tears – first, watching an espionage thriller, and then at a romantic comedy. I felt like I was losing it, but at the end of the day things were no longer unmanageable. The worst had passed, and there were still movies to see.