My Dinner With Andre is a 1981 film starring Wallace Shawn (you know him as Fizzini from The Princess Bride) and Andre Gregory. As the title suggests, the film largely consists of the two men sharing a conversation over dinner. It’s a movie for thinkers. A number of the conversation topics struck home for me and are relevant to suburbia ditchers. I’ve pulled some of the conversations out and added my reactions to them.
“New York is the new model for the new concentration camp. Where the camp has been built by the inmates themselves, and the inmates are the guards and they have this pride in this thing they’ve built.
They’ve built their own prison, so they exist in a state of schizophrenia. They’re both guards and prisoners and as a result they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they’ve made, or to even see it as a prison. “
It’s not just New York. This is an apt description of the average American suburban life. We build our own pretty prisons of “secure” office jobs and comfortable suburban homes. But we don’t see them as prisons, nor know that we can escape.
In his book “The City in History”, Lewis Mumford said:
“Each member of Suburbia becomes imprisoned by the very separation that he has prized: he is fed through a narrow opening: a telephone line, a radio band, a television circuit.”
Today’s jail cells just add an internet connection.
“Since I’ve come back home I’ve been finding the world we live in more and more upsetting….
Seven or eight people told me how wonderful I looked. One person, one, said “you look horrible—is something wrong”? This woman, because of who she is…and what she’s gone through, she could see me with complete clarity.
But the other people…they are living in an insane dream world. They’re not looking. That seems very strange to me.”
“Right. Because they just didn’t see anything except the few little things they wanted to see.”
“We’re just walking around in some kind of fog. I think we are all in a trance. We’re walking around like zombies. I don’t think we are even aware of ourselves or our reaction to things. We’re just going around all day like unconscious machines.
We can’t be direct, so we end up saying the weirdest things. “
“What often happens in some of these evenings is these crazy little fantasies will start being played with.
You know, everyone will be talking at once, saying “Hey wouldn’t it be great if Frank Sinatra and Mrs. Nixon and blablabla were in such and such a situation, you know always with famous people and always grotesque…or people will be talking about some horrible thing like the death of that girl in the car with Ted Kennedy and they’ll just be roaring with laughter.
I mean, it’s really amazing. It’s just unbelievable. That’s the only way anything is expressed - through these completely insane jokes.
I think that’s why I never understand what’s going on at a party. I’m always completely confused.”
“It may be that one of the reasons we don’t know what’s going on is that when we are there at the party is that we’re all too busy performing.”
“Suppose you’re going through some kind of hell in your own life, well you would love to know if friends have experience similar things. But we just don’t dare to ask each other.”
“No, It would be like asking your friend to drop his role.”
After our first year on the road we were back home visiting family for the holidays. We had just been in 32 states, visited a number of National Parks, met amazing people, and saw amazing things.
I wasn’t looking to be the center of attention, regaling the entire group with well-rehearsed tales from the road. But I at least thought someone would be a little bit curious about what had happened to us out there.
No one cared.
Not one person asked about our travels. Or even commented on the fact that we had been gone and come back.
The TV was playing sports. And the table talk was all about celebrities and who was dating whom.
Like Wally, I was completely confused. I ended up grabbing my coat and going for a long walk in the snow.
I’ve since realized that you can’t go home, because the you that left isn’t the you that returns. You change.
But the people you left behind will not see that change, and think you are the same person that left. And treat you accordingly.
Comfort is Dangerous
“Last Christmas, Debbie and I were given an electric blanket. I can tell you that it’s just such a marvelous advance over our old way of life.
But it is quite different from not having an electric blanket. And I sometimes wonder, what is it doing to me? I feel that I’m not sleeping quite in the same way. My dreams are sort of different. And I feel a little different when I get up in the morning.”
“I wouldn’t put on an electric blanket on for anything.
First, I’d be worried I might get electrocuted. No, I don’t trust technology.
But I mean, the main thing, Wally, is that I think that kind of comfort just separates you from reality in a very direct way.
If you don’t have that electric blanket and your apartment is cold and you need to put on another blanket or go into the closet and pile up coats on top of the blanket you have…well then you know it’s cold.
And that sets up a link of things. Is the person next to you cold? Are there other people in the world who are cold? What a cold night!
I like the cold - my god I never realized - I don’t want a blanket, it’s fun being cold…I can snuggle up against you even more because it’s cold.
Turn on that electric blanket and it’s like taking a tranquilizer. It’s like being lobotomized by watching television. I think you enter the dream world again.
What does it do to us, Wally, living in an environment where something as massive as the seasons or winter or cold, don’t in any way affect us? I mean, we’re animals after all.
I mean…what does that mean? I think that means that instead of living under the sun and the moon and the sky and the stars, we’re living in a fantasy world of our own making.”
“Yeah, but I mean, I would never give up my electric blanket, Andre. I mean, because New York is cold in the winter. I mean, our apartment is cold! It’s a difficult environment.
I mean, our life is tough enough as it is. I’m not looking for ways to get rid of a few things that provide relief and comfort. I mean, on the contrary, I’m looking for more comfort because the world is very abrasive. I mean, I’m trying to protect myself because, really, there’s these abrasive beatings to be avoided everywhere you look!”
“But, Wally, don’t you see that comfort can be dangerous? I mean, you like to be comfortable and I like to be comfortable too, but comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility. “
What is a suburban life if not a collection of comforts?
Thick walls and roof surrounding us, heating and A/C connected to programmable thermostats, hot water, cold water and ice at the touch of a lever, ergonomic chairs and sleep number beds, robot vacuum cleaners, and high-speed internet throughout?
Dream world indeed. What have we paid for that dangerous tranquility?
Habits Aren’t Life
“Our minds are just focused on these goals and plans, which in themselves are not reality.”
“Goals and plans are not…reality. They’re fantasy. They’re part of a dream-life. “
“And because people’s concentration is on their goals, in their life they just live each moment by habit. Life becomes habitual.
If you are just operating by habit, then you are not really living.”
I’ve had a long-standing dislike of goals.
I’ve often thought about how developing day-to-day habits may help you achieve certain goals, they put your life on auto-pilot. Days spent on auto-pilot fly by.
If you want to slow time down, don’t have habits.
My Dinner With Andre
If you enjoy movies that make you think, I’d recommend My Dinner With Andre. You can find the full-length movie on YouTube.
Have you seen it? What parts of the conversation made you think?