Strange Acts of Intuition in Cinemas

Dunedin/1960s. From a young age I’d go downtown and take in a movie, sometimes alone. There were James Bond movies. I remember ‘The Guns of Navarone’. I liked the good-guys/bad-guys stuff. War. Anything a teenage knob could get into: car chases; explosions.  Sometimes men and women would talk for ages then kiss. Oh God! B-o-ring! We’d wait impatiently for the real action to resume.

My taste in movies widened, thank goodness. But it was a slow evolution.

[A digression: I had a friend, Stephen C. He was quite the thinker and a socialist I suspect. Certainly not a Royalist. In those days they played “God Save the Queen” before the movie and the moment it began, everyone would stand. We’d all been trained. I mean – Ermagawd THE QUEEN! Then one day I noticed Stephen still sitting. WTF (or 1960s equivalent)! Urgently I whispered at him, but he did not arise. I feared vague terrible consequences; a righteous telling-off by some outraged authority figure and a public shaming, I guess, but it never happened. Anyway he talked me around to ‘the dark side’ and I became a rebel too. We daring young men in out stay-seated machines, defying the Might of the Empire and 1,000 years of obsequious grovelling. Even so, I was shit-scared.]

And so many decades passed and I sat through a load of movies. In my 2nd year of uni, film festivals became a thing in NZ. I was in Auckland by then. I ended up seeing loads of weird shit – sorry; ‘Art-house Movies’. Lots of them, and my brain retains fragments of some. Odd vignettes of costume dramas, love tragedies, turgid studies of nihilistic angst (sorry, Bergman, but it was true!). There was a fabulous animated sci-fi movie, and also the dullest movie of my life: Solaris.

life rolled on. I was young cashed up and curious, but most movies were a waste of money. I got nothing out of them. Eventually, eschewing art-house fare and my attempts at being an intellectually sophisticated adult, I went back to the ‘actioner’. No satisfaction there either, until Star Wars arrived. Finally everything I needed!

But gradually the movies got better, and gradually I forged stable relationships wherein I had the bonus of having a regular movie-going buddy. Bagdad Cafe was so wonderful, I saw it three times. When Harry Met Sallyyes, yes, YES!

And now to the present. I went to see The Lady in the Van with my wife. Her mother insisted we should go – “you’re gonna love it!” and we did. “what’s it about?” – “Some guy gets lumbered with a crazy disgusting old lady for 15 years, after he lets her park her van in his driveway…” “Okay – got it.” and off we go. and I’m watching it … five minutes in … and suddenly I go. “OMG that’s the driveway where she lived. They actually went back and filmed it where it happened!

Now I hadn’t read that. I don’t listen to radio. I knew absolutely zip about that movie. But I intuitively flashed up that fact. I would’ve been broken-hearted to get home and discover it hadn’t been so, but I was right. Bang-on!

Ex Machina. I went with my scifi-breathing son. We loved it. It really was extraordinary; Best Sci-fi Ava! And we’re sliding along with it, 40 minutes in, mesmerised by her see-thru arms and the intense dance of conversations and nerve-wracking undercurrents … and suddenly it happened again. The human guy asks her, “If you could get out of here, where would you go? What would you look at?” And my mind immediately flashed to a certain location in Japan. (You know it; it’s world-famous, but I won’t spoil the movie, okay?) and although I didn’t get it exactly right – I got the concept of it exactly right. EX-ACT-LY. That was her answer to his question.

Holy. Fuck.

But this is not about movies. It’s not about ‘intuition’ or the extraordinary powers of the human (or robot) mind. It’s about being autistic.

Being autistic is life-long. There’s no cure. [Parents, let me repeat this, THERE IS NO CURE!] Those 2 or 3 decades  of going to movies was entirely about me being autistic, and nothing to do with Bergman and his ilk being incompetent. They made great movies. What made them ‘art-house’ was because they were entirely about the human condition, entirely for the ’emotional IQ’ of the viewers. About relationships, love, loyalty, rivalry, conflict, hidden agendas, madness, grief …

I’d often watch movies and think, “No. Don’t believe it. People aren’t like this. No-one could be such an areshole/so violent/so evil. No-one could be that driven/desperate/that much in love as to [INSERT EXTREME BEHAVIOUR]. These are just characters made up by script writers to try and create ‘drama’. They’re over-working it. Pure fiction.” 

Because I had no connection to it. Even though I had grown up in a totally fucked-up family full of violence and despair, I remained disconnected from my own human condition or anyone else’s. That was why movies made no sense. Time and time again I’d sit through 90 minutes of sheer pointless nothing. ‘Solaris’ was sheer pointless nothing. Seriously. Absolutely none of it had any impact on me whatsoever except to utterly bore the shit out of me. (Salman Rushdie called Solaris “a sci-fi masterpiece.”)

So what changed? I can now watch a movie and feel very intensely for the characters. I can ‘read’ the emotional subtext in a scene without dialogue. I seldom see a character now where I go – “Uh-uh, nope, can’t believe that! Who wrote this shite? doesn’t he know anything about human beings?”

What changed was that I grew up. What takes a few years in a child took sixty years in me. But at least it happened. I learned the language of the soul, of love and pain, of the wabi-sabi of life, of exhilaration and seething anger and depression and despair. It’s the same language that Star Wars is written in (ham-fistedly by George Lucas, it has to be said), and all the weird-shit movies too. It is what some people carelessly just call ‘intuition’.

But it ain’t. It’s in our Ape-ancestor genetics. Or we learn it. Or we don’t. Or we can’t be arsed straining our emotional solaris and just go buy tickets to the next big actioner. But intuition is being able to double-guess a robot.

(Or was I double-guessing a writer?)




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