The Dream Screen in 'The Moviegoer.' (by Walker Percy)

By Lawson, Lewis A. | Papers on Language & Literature, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

The Dream Screen in 'The Moviegoer.' (by Walker Percy)


Lawson, Lewis A., Papers on Language & Literature


It is not often noted, but, the narrative proper of Walker Percy's The Moviegoer (1961), while it offers a very seductive "virtual present," is actually a representing of selected events from an eight-day period that occurred at some point over a year in the past.(1) The Epilogue establishes the fact that Binx has been representing to himself the feelings that he had earlier experienced, but had not been able to articulate; Percy's technique is illuminated by Charles Sanders Peirce's model of consciousness: the self-which-is silently, converses with the self-which-is-just-coming-to-be. Percy implies such a strategy in "From Facts to Fiction":

When I sat down to write The Moviegoer, I was very much aware of discarding the conventional notions of a plot and a set of characters, discarded because the traditional concept of plot-and-character itself reflects a view of reality which has been called into question. Rather would I begin with a man who finds himself in a world, a very concrete man who is located in a very concrete place and time. Such a man might be represented as coming to himself... (9)

The man coming to himself is the Binx who has selected and arranged a group of images so that their form conveys, represents, names his feelings to himself. These images--and, indeed, the form they take--would have been formed from and influenced by dreams, so that it is appropriate that dreams and dreaming are inescapably prominent in the content of the narrative. The boy Binx who got "excited" about Freud's Interpretation of Dream (138), but was rebuffed by his mother's lack of interest, the thirty-year old Binx who is unconsciously driven by dreams caused by the rebuffing mother to "act out," and is in the Epilogue the Binx who, by virtue of his conversion to Christianity (a restitution of the most object), can now understand and name his past condition for himself.

During the eight days of his life that he recollects, Binx goes to the movies four times and refers to twelve identified and several unidentified movies. There is some truth to the diagnosis of Binx provided by Harvey R. Greenberg:

One encounters chronic moviemania in rigid, inhibited types who feel exquisitely uncomfortable when forced into close interpersonal contact. Safe only in well-defined social situations, intolerably anxious if called upon to improvise, these people sleepwalk through the day's routine and only come alive at second hand, as proxy participants in the adventures of their screen idols. (Walker Percy's elegant novel The Moviegoer describes such a case.) (4) But there is not enough to Greenberg's analysis. Binx shows no interest in cinematographic technique, nor indeed does he say much about acting technique; he comments on a film narrative or a character's action only if it re-presents in some way some aspect of his life. The movie screen is his dream screen, in the sense that Robert T. Eberwein describes the connection between the two screens in Film and the Dream Screen.

Throughout Binx's recollection it is the image of the movie theater, rather than the memory of a specific movie, which offers the more evocative impression. As Esther Harding interprets a theater as a dream symbol: "This is the place where the typical stories of a man's life are shown, that is, the mythogems are presented to consciousness" (171). When Binx describes his "neighborhood theater in Gentilly" (7)--the evocative gen the source of so many birth-related words--he emphasizes its form, not its function of presenting constantly changing attractions: the theater "has permanent lettering on the front of the marquee reading: Where Happiness Costs So Little" (7). He adds, "[t]he fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie," his choice of preposition suggesting the primacy of the experience of enclosure in his moviegoing. It is not too much to suggest that he experiences "nyctophilla," defined by Bertram Lewin as "an erotic pleasure in darkness, which enters as a wish-fulfillment element in fantasies of being in the ~womb,' or more properly, as the German word Mutterleib suggests, of being in the mother's body" (The Image, 40). …

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