I want to watch a film on my own at two o’clock in the morning. I’d like it to be Swedish or French or German, although the nationality is irrelevant, as long as the director has some conception of what it’s like to be a real person.
I’d like the film to be about a disillusioned young man who works for a corporate coffee chain. I’d like him to be dissatisfied with his job, not because he has big career ambitions but because he hates the inferior quality of the coffee. The young man drinks the coffee they serve at work, partly because he gets a free cup while he’s on duty, and partly because he’s an insomniac who relies on caffeine to keep him conscious.
The young man begins to suffer delusions that he’s slowly being poisoned. In spite of this, the young man – let’s call him Jürgen – continues to knock back nine or ten corporate coffees a day. On his days off, Jürgen will spend what little money he can spare on quality coffee and fine wine when he can afford it. There’ll be a particularly memorable scene in which Jürgen, looking tired and dishevelled, attends a wine tasting event. Finding himself surrounded by bourgeois connoisseurs, Jürgen will attempt to blend in, but soon, under the influence of alcohol, he’ll lash out at the pretentious old fools in an astonishing verbal and physical tirade before being ejected by security.
This will be a complex scene in a sense, because it’ll mean different things to different people. Some will interpret Jürgen’s outburst as a fit of jealous rage – the scene being a stark revelation of the root of Jürgen’s many insecurities. He’s a poor, uneducated man who longs to be wealthy and sophisticated, and lashes out upon realising this world won’t accept him. Others will see his rant as wholly justified – Jürgen’s an angry young socialist, railing against the decadence and pomposity of the elite.
Personally, I’ll interpret the scene as more subtle and ambiguous. The motivation behind Jürgen’s outburst remains unclear, which to me is intriguing, and will make me want to watch the film again, scrutinising this fascinating character more closely.
Later I’ll have a conversation with one of Kez’s trendy art school friends, who’s also seen the film. We’ll argue about the wine tasting scene.
“It’s pure Marxist dogma, man,” he’ll say.
“I disagree,” I’ll say. “The point about great cinema is, we’re allowed to disagree. That’s what separates this kind of film from mindless blockbusters in which everyone in the audience has exactly the same experience.”
I’ll wander away without waiting for his reply.
My favourite scene in the film – let’s give the film a name – let’s call it The Longest Day in Winter. My favourite scene in The Longest Day in Winter will be Jürgen sitting alone in silence in his apartment drinking a cup of coffee. That’s the entire scene. It will last for ten whole minutes. Some people will hate it. Some will walk out of the cinema, or demand a refund on their download. To me, it’ll be the most powerful scene in the film. Jürgen will be played by an unknown actor named Stephan Blanc. The beauty of the scene will lie in the impact of Blanc’s performance. As Jürgen sips from his cup, watching the world through his window, many thoughts pop in and out of his head. He’s both agitated and at peace, contented and miserable. Among the audience members who remain in the cinema, or resist the temptation to reach for the remote control, some of us will be captivated by Blanc’s intensity. At times during the coffee-drinking scene, we’ll almost have the ability to read the character’s thoughts. I’ve never heard of Stephan Blanc, but it’s obvious that he’s destined for international success.
The film will end tragically as Jürgen dies from a heart attack. Was the attack self-inflicted due to his over-reliance on stimulants, or as he’d grown to suspect, was he actually being poisoned?
Let me ask that question a different way. Let’s assume Jürgen was poisoned at the end of his life. What was he poisoned by? Consumerism? The state? Himself? We’ll never know, because it’s only a story. Jürgen will never answer these questions, because he’s dead, and because he never existed.
I’ll watch the film twice in the early hours of the morning, first at 2 o’clock, then at four. I’ll drink espresso and cheap red wine, alternating between one drink and the other. I won’t go to sleep all night. The following day, I won’t even sit down. I’ll be constantly pacing, trying to stay awake until the evening. I’ll drink more espresso. I’ll drink more wine.
When Kez and her trendy art school friends come over, I’ll tell them I was up all night, watching the best film I’ve seen for a long, long time.
“What’s it about?” they’ll say.
“It’s about me!” I’ll say. “It’s all about me! Don’t call me Franklin anymore. Just call me Jürgen!”
I’ll laugh my head off. They’ll wonder what I’m laughing at, and that’ll make me laugh even more. Kez will be embarrassed and wish she wasn’t my girlfriend, but at the same time a part of her will feel strangely proud.