Spoilers: This is going to seem like it has spoilers for Portrait of a Lady on Fire or Hadestown, but it doesn’t. It does have spoilers for the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but, um, if you don’t know how that one turns out, it’s thousands of years old, so the spoiler courtesy zone has long since been exited.
EXT. THE WALTER KERR THEATER IN NEW YORK — NIGHT
MARIANNE and HELOISE exit the theater into a frosty late winter’s night. Their breath hangs in the air, and SOPHIE (a maid) tries frantically to hail a taxi.
The theater’s marquee advertises the international musical sensation Hadestown, one of the only good works of art ever made. (The film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, from which our dramatic personae are on holiday, is one of the only other good works of art ever made.)
A note: All of this scene is performed in French, but I have translated it into English for the benefit of my majority-English audience.
HELOISE: Oh, that was wonderful. The music! The dancing! The magic lights!
MARIANNE: Turn around and look at me. You wouldn’t even hold my hand on the way out of the theater.
Heloise pointedly does not turn around.
HELOISE: No, I think I have solved the puzzle. The message of the story is “never look.”
MARIANNE: That’s what you took from the opera?
HELOISE: What did you take?
MARIANNE: The rich must be destroyed.
Now Heloise looks back at her lover.
HELOISE: How on Earth did you get that from the opera?
Marianne shrugs, as Sophie returns, having given up on hailing a cab.
SOPHIE: I can’t get a cab. Let’s walk to the M&Ms store.
HELOISE: The what?
INT. THE M&MS STORE — LATER
The kaleidoscopic candies dance around the three women, who are among the only customers in the store this late. Marianne regards a re-creation of the Mona Lisa done in M&Ms and frowns, obviously distressed.
HELOISE: I have never seen such a wonderful place. Have you seen such a wonderful place?
MARIANNE: You were raised in a convent. Of course you’re not familiar with the M&Ms store.
Her smile curls toward the genuine.
MARIANNE (cont.): They say the M&M melts in your mouth and not in your hand. I believe this is also true of our love.
Both Heloise and the woman writing this tear up.
HELOISE: Yes, it is very true of our love. (beat) But tell me, Marianne, when you say that the rich must be destroyed, do you mean all the rich?
MARIANNE: I didn’t say I believed that. I said that the musical itself posited that the rich must be destroyed. They suck up the beauty of this Earth and lavish it upon themselves, then work to keep everybody else scared and weak. And no matter how hard we try to break that cycle, we are doomed to repeat it, again and again and again.
Sophie overhears the two of them from the cash register, where she is purchasing a large bag of exclusively green M&Ms.
SOPHIE: This is why we must destroy the machines of production and tear the electric city to its very foundation! I share class solidarity with you, Marianne!
She extends a fist to bump Marianne’s, but Marianne does not extend her fist.
SOPHIE (cont.): You sleep with one absurdly rich woman…
HELOISE: Why do you think Orpheus turns to look at Eurydice?
MARIANNE: This again?
HELOISE: Well? It makes no sense in this retelling of the story. He is sweeter than he seems, and she stronger.
MARIANNE: There’s an entire song about it. You know? “Doubt Comes In”? The entire cast sang about how his mind was suffused with doubt.
HELOISE: Yes, but why doubt? If your love is so eternal, why doubt?
MARIANNE: It is impossible for Orpheus to believe that he, a poor man, can offer Eurydice anything that a rich titan like Hades could offer her. He does not think there is such a thing as love when faced with the overwhelming strength of the capitalist machinery.
HELOISE: You sound like Sophie.
MARIANNE: I do, don’t I?
In the background, Sophie opens the spigots to the M&M canisters, letting them run endlessly. Exit, pursued by security guard.
HELOISE: But the point is that Eurydice still follows him. Love can overcome such an overwhelming class divide.
MARIANNE: Can it?
HELOISE: Look, I told you I had no options.
Marianne catches her hand, holding it tightly, the two of them framed against an image of the New York skyline created entirely with M&Ms.
MARIANNE: You had options.
HELOISE: And I would not be imprisoned by your expectations! That is its own kind of hell.
MARIANNE: And yet if we merely destroyed the rich…
HELOISE: That’s your solution to everything.
EXT. GREY’S PAPAYA — NIGHT
It is very late. Sophie is polishing off her second hot dog. Marianne sips demurely at a glass of wine she somehow found. Heloise frets.
HELOISE: The question is never about why Orpheus turns and dooms Eurydice. The question is about whether any lover can refrain from turning.
MARIANNE: Say more.
HELOISE: Imagine versions of us born in this time, in this place. Nothing would be keeping us apart but ourselves. And yet if we were allowed to live a life happy and free together, we would still be separated by my money, or by your ambitions, or by my own family. I do not know what it is to go hungry, and yet so many around us do.
MARIANNE: I have never been hungry either.
SOPHIE: You are both bourgeois pretenders.
HELOISE: I feed you, Sophie!
HELOISE (cont.): Don’t I feed her?
SOPHIE: This is about more than food!
MARIANNE: It is about more than food. (beat) We are all accidents, laboring under the delusion that we are not. You are right if we had been born now, we might be together, and I might disappoint you or you disappoint me in some novel way. Still we pretend otherwise. And yet to meet someone important is to feel for a moment that there is some animating force beyond us. We only lurch forward because we hope to capture that animating force and put it to our bidding.
SOPHIE: Some of us lurch forward.
MARIANNE: Anyway, what was your favorite song?
HELOISE: “Wait for Me.”
SOPHIE: “Wait for Me.”
MARIANNE: Yeah, “Wait for Me.”
HELOISE: The lamps!
MARIANNE: The lamps.
SOPHIE: The lamps!
Sophie takes a long slurp of her Diet Coke, and the women set off into the city night.
What I’ve been up to: Believe it or not, I’ve been writing so much that the above trifle was about all I could find the time for this week. You will see some of that work very soon and some of that work moderately soon, but I promise you that you will see all of it before 2020 is out. Was that cryptic? I suppose so…
Read me: The exit of Elizabeth Warren from the Democratic primary prompted some excellent writing from all around the internet. Here are two pieces I quite liked in this vein from The Atlantic’s Megan Garber and Vox’s own Emily Stewart. Yes, Warren’s appeal was aimed smack dab at the demographic of white millennial college-educated writers who make up many of our finest websites, but this also meant plenty of excellent takes to go around. That’s more than you can say for Amy Klobuchar!
Watch me: It’s actually a wonderful time to go to the movies, which is not something you can say every March. Oscar holdovers like Parasite are wonderful, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is essential, and we’ve even got some enjoyably compelling mainstream films like The Invisible Man (Elisabeth Moss forever!) and Emma. (Anya Taylor-Joy forever!) I will likely be writing about the latter soon, so maybe go see it to prepare.
And another thing… I am coming super late to this story about some people who found a skull in LA’s Griffith Park, but as someone who is just starting to get in to hiking LA County in earnest, well, it’s a great read, and it reminds me just a bit of this bonkers investigation into the disappearance of a German family in the California desert.
This week’s reading music: “Wait for Me (Reprise)” from Hadestown. (I don’t care what the girls say. The reprise is better than the initial performance!)
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