' ' Cinema Romantico: This One Scene in The Mend

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

This One Scene in The Mend

The first time I visited my best friend in New York City I hadn’t even been there more than two hours and we hadn’t even been out of his apartment for more than fifteen minutes before we encountered some semi-lunatic shouting at the top of his lungs. He was walking by himself on the other side of the street, fiercely hollering unintelligible pleas for…something. As someone who came from Midwestern reticence and Phoenician indifference, places where pretty much everyone lived their respective out-of-home lives in cars and office parks and chain restaurants, it was somewhat startling. To the Brooklyn dwellers all around me it was no big eye-raiser; they hardly noticed him.

I’ve since lived in Chicago for a decade and have come to fully understand what can drive a man to scream at no-one-knows-who about who-knows-what. The proximity of everything in the city – people, people’s pets, more people – becomes exhausting. I like to go running to find solitude but solitude is hard to find on the jogging path when baby carriages are wielded like weapons and a father playing catch with his son means you might just get beaned by a ball and every car runs every stoplight. Your dwelling is supposed to be your respite but respites within a city too often feel less like a place of peace than the trash compactor in “Star Wars” where the walls – your own walls! – are closing in on you. Your neighbors above you are loud. Your neighbors below you are loud. Rents escalate and space is limited. And the outside world feels ever more omnipresent inside what with the shrieking siren of social media constantly beckoning. To stop the overflow of everything you find yourself hoping and praying that the power will go out and you can just have time to yourself. But even then I find myself worrying that with nothing to distract me all that will remain is the cacophony of noise inside my head, much of it leftover from time on the streets trying not to freak out.

“The Mend” is a film of immense claustrophobia, detailing two brothers, Mat and Alan, whose physical proximity to one another shrinks as the film progresses, until they are right on top of one another in a film that has gleefully gone mad which means they have gone mad which means we have gone mad which leaves the whole lot of us sweating out feelings. A significant portion of the film takes place within the limited confines of Alan’s apartment, partly during a power outage that often reduces the already limited space to just what you can see, partly during a cocktail party that hit the agony of a cocktail party so acutely I felt like I was having trouble breathing. But it’s claustrophobic even when it gets out of the apartment and into New York City, like everyone is hemmed in and right on top of each other.

To wit, our three principal characters, Mat, Alan and Andrea, are at a coffee shop, seated at an outdoor table. Mat has a fairly large coffee. His oft-aggressive demeanor suggests he doesn’t really need caffeine, but too bad. He’s having some. Perhaps the beverage is contributing to the look on his face, an aggrieved eye-squint frown aimed at no one in particular, just straight ahead, like a particularly unpleasant thought his stuck to his over-taxed. I love this facial expression. Then, a window in the apartment above them opens as a guy leans out. “Save me!” he yells. “Get me out of here!” Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian mentioned this scene and seemed to think the guy’s cries resulted from a lover’s quarrel. Yet I have no idea how Hoffman elicited a lover’s quarrel from this image. We don’t see the man’s lover. There are no hints provided of a quarrel. To us and to Mat and Alan and Andrea he’s just some guy yelling out a window. And while they see him, the trio doesn’t really react, perhaps because at a certain point it becomes virtually impossible to differentiate the voices in their head from the voice in the window.

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