The Difference Revealed at Sea (in a Movie)

On the last round of edits for this new book, I took a break last night before taking the final pass, and watched “The Old Man in the Sea” on Turner Movie Classics. Strange how that channel sometimes has on the perfect opium for an escape. No commercials and slow, well told stories that let your mind just sit down for a bit.

If you’ve never seen the movie adaptation of the Old Man in the Sea, it feels as if you have come and taken a seat in this small fishing town and, while drinking a beer and looking out over the magnificent ocean, Hemingway himself reads to you from his book. There are countless passages that are read word for word by the narrator, making you appreciate the technique and craft with which Papa wrote.

The shots of real world marlins, sharks, flying birds, playing lions, and lunging sharks are simply sublime.

And of course, there is Spencer Tracy, old and nearing the end of his career himself, going out for one last ride into Hollywood. With a glass of scotch, it’s truly a good way to come down from the madness of finishing a book. I was in my own world, watching The Old Man go after the fish – being taken deep into the ocean – describing each minute detail of what was happening beneath the water. The slowness. The technique. The Story.

About 1/3 through, my wife had finished her work, and came in to join me, glad that I was not sitting in front of the computer talking to myself or pacing around scratching my head raw in worry.

“What are you watching” she said.

Rather than say, I just let the narrator speak the words of the The Old Man in Sea. She sat down next to me, and then things changed just a little bit. After 15 minutes of The Old Man talking to the fish, and the Narrator talking about The Old Man and the fish, she turned to me and said  “Is this just going to be that old man trying to catch a fish all alone?”

“No, of course not,” I said. “There’s more to it than that. Just watch with me.”

The movie went on – The Old Man struggling more to catch the fish, than harpooning the great fish, fighting off sharks when he finally caught it, and then, after his knives and harpoons all gone, beating back the sharks with a club, until he’d fended them off and sailed home with only the head and skeleton of the great fish.

Though I was still enjoying, I felt how absurd my wife though it all was.

“Just another movie about a lonely man trying to catch something” she said.

I realized something there – I guess it was the same feeling I had when she watches one of those romance movies that you know how it will end – but she still ends up crying at the end. There might be a fundamental difference between how men and women see the world. About what we are both after – about what makes us cry and what relaxes our insides after dealing with the madness of the real world.

Perhaps we will each others gaps – our absences. Perhaps women are the great fish men are chasing. Perhaps they are the ocean. Perhaps they are neither – and just wait on the shore doing their thing while men exhaust themselves with journeys and quests, because a woman realizes that love is the only thing worth going to the ends of the earth for. The rest just ego.

Who knows – but it’s nice to get into a Hemingway movie for a few hours before returning to things. Even someone reading his words allows for the understanding of craft.


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