Exhibit 1.7.8

Graham Greene’s The Quiet American



I remember seeing the adaptation of this movie in Des Moines at The Varsity and being blown away by Michael Caine and the movie and somehow Brendan Fraser (O, who am I kidding, I’ve liked Brendan Fraser since School Ties). It was one of those movies I felt so much that upon leaving the theatre I decided I’d never see it again. Or read the book. Or even watch School Ties. It was all dead to me.

And not because it was the best movie I’d ever seen–or even of that year, necessarily–just that there was something so uniquely devastating about Caine’s performance that, being a little bit precious and a whole lot of 19, I just up and decided that I wanted to keep the feeling of that theatre and that night. Like I said, it was one of those decisions one has with certain art, less about the movie maybe than me.

(I still do this sometimes, wanting to protect something, wanting to skip a test).

But of course I remember nothing about that night now, just some dusty pact I made that I tore up in order to finally read this book. Was I on a date? I think so, but I also remember seeing a movie there the very next week (or maybe the week before?) by myself. One was this, and one was The Pianist and while I’m almost certain I saw this with a girl, it would not shock me if I asked the girl–the girl would not want me to ask the girl, I’m pretty sure–and she said we actually saw Adrien Brody running through bombed-out buildings. Or that we saw both together. Or that we were in a group. Or neither.

And that’s the kind of necessary loss of one’s own life that’s all over Greene’s book, one that, if we can forgive it some of its unintentionally problematic representations, probably deserves a critical re-reading now that’s it’s so many decades freed from the wars in Vietnam. O, it’d be silly to ignore that stuff (or how awfully vindicated Greene must have felt for the rest of his life)*, but this is not primarily a book about Americans or Vietnam or even literal war. This is a book about losing love to time, that war, so much so its narrator often goes on long internal monologues like this one:

In the moment of shock there is little pain; pain began about three A.M. when I began to plan the life I had still somehow to live and to remember memories in order to somehow eliminate them. Happy memories are the worst, and I tried to remember the unhappy. I was practised. I had lived all this before. I knew I could do what was necessary but I was so much older–I felt I had little energy left to reconstruct.

Fowler is old or very nearly and unlike Barnes‘ guy already resigned to nothingness, he’s fighting to keep something after a life of supposed neutrality, one where he’s gone from station to station, woman to woman, until he’s finally learned most of the world’s–and his own–secret workings. And though there’s something like a happy ending here, by that point the book has already made its point the cost of certain knowledge. Fowler is the one who knows. Fowler is the one who hurts. Fowler is the one who has always done nothing.

Its beautifully done, this setup which pits his political conscience against his personal, history against future, love against love; this setup that let’s his¬†cynicism¬†be both his problem and his salvation. Because he knows the violence it will take to move forward but how he cannot stop himself anymore than the American can. Because if Pyle is a true believer of democracy, Fowler is a true believer in love (or at least his need for it, a distinction he would not be the least bit interested in).

And maybe I shouldn’t feel bad that I don’t remember the night of the movie better or that I can’t ask, but I still do.


* We also have to add Graham Greene to the E.M. Forster Memorial Wall of People Who Lived Way Later Than Seems Right. Greene died in 1991. It’s nearly possible for him to have caught an advance screening of School Ties before he went.
Comment / Posted in 2013, Americans, Fiction

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