May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
December 13, 2012
The Loneliest Planet does a great deal with very little. The story of this young engaged couple taking a guided four day tour of the sparse wonders of Georgian geology is playful at first. It is a pleasant evocation of that stage in marriage that recalls the sense of abandon that compelled my wife and I to travel together as our romance tilted toward the unknowns of our mutual commitment.
Something about being across an ocean, subject to unknown maps and languages schooled us in the reality of our basic, instinctive responses to life that had wormed their way into the DNA of our relationship. We were young. At the best of times, we enjoyed each other like kids on a playground. At the worst of times, we encountered each other as strangers – unable to interpret the language of need and survival buried in our knee-jerk responses to conflict.
I am going to come clean and tell a story we have told very few people. My now wife and I flew into de Gaulle for a week in Paris years ago. I had an engagement ring in my pocket. The first thing we did after taking the train over to the right bank was to ride the carousel just to the left of the Louvre. Which was a good choice. Our first glimpse of the mansard expanse of Paris instantly expanded our tiny lives. As we clanked through the radius of the wheel, we emerged in cycles above the city, gutted of words with each revolution. So I reached into my pocket and opened up the cheap little box in which resided hundreds of hours of fitting trim, hanging fourth floor windows in the onslaught of Iowa winters, cleaning bathrooms.
It was one of those awful, appropriate, reality-checking laughs. Not the right moment. I snapped the little box shut and put it back in my pocket. We scoured Paris and each other for every molecule of life for the next week.
I wasn’t hurt by this. There was actually an immense freedom generated by her completely unexpected but in hindsight mandatory and beautiful laughter. And – this is important – she put her hand on my face in passing. In that touch telling me: This was hysterical. I love you. I am on board with you. A few weeks later, I slipped the ring on her finger on a bridge over the Saone in the heart-breakingly ancient center of Lyon. A very old man took our picture on a disposable Kodak camera. Oh God, to be on that bridge again with my perfect wife.
But this is a memory of a touch. One casual gesture that continues to unfold in my memory like the leaves of tea in a Proustian cup. Embedded in that touch is the entirety of our marriage.
(Which includes an interlude in Verona many years later that resulted in us stumbling across each other near the stadium. Straight out of Certified Copy, we walked toward each other out of the crowd and embraced. Who are we, we thought. We are married, we responded. This is our great gift, we agreed. We wandered after a bottle of wine back to our segregated hostel.)
Back to The Loneliest Planet. I am not sure who said this, but it is true that marriage can be a terribly lonely place to live. The things that break the icebergs of our fundamental conflicts are not ideas or plans. They are simple gestures; a mere touch well-applied. My wife’s hand on mine at certain times is an eschatology. It bends time and circumstance to the improbable realities of grace; telling me: this is going to work.
The Loneliest Planet is a very lengthy film about one touch. It occupies about 48 frames worth of film. The offhand and casual sense of this contact contains the kinds of mysteries that baffle and shipwreck lesser films. Before I started writing about The Loneliest Planet, I only kind of liked it. Now I am amazed by it. I think this passing moment is what the term “grace note” really means.