The good news is that, after many attempts, I finally managed
to stay awake for the whole movie; the bad news is that I
think, in so doing, I proved that I am doomed never to be
The night before last, for the first time, I made it all the
way through My Dinner With Andre—a triumph of no small
measure. Starting back somewhere in the middle ’80s, I got
it in my head that this was an important movie for me to see,
an important movie for me to like. I’m not certain why, exactly:
It was set in Manhattan; it was a couple of artsy quasi-
intellectuals talking philosophy and spirituality over dinner
in an upscale restaurant; it had almost no action whatsoever.
Those are all things likely to appeal to me—an affected, aspiring
metropolitan idler—but, even so, I was driven.
In part, I’m sure it was the fact that it was famously off-putting
in its pretension. (I remember a Saturday Night Live
sketch hawking ironic My Dinner With Andre action figures.)
The gist was obvious: This is for eggheads only. I guess I
viewed that as a challenge. My teenage self thought, “Well,
yeah, of course, most people are morons. But I bet I’d get
So, when I was old enough—and video-rental joints were common
enough—I set out to prove just how rarefied my tastes were.
Admittedly, I had set the bar pretty low; I mean, it’s not
like we’re talking about Proust or the Ring Cycle, here. But
even my paltry ambitions went unmet.
It wasn’t that I didn’t get the movie, per se. It was that
I simply could not stay conscious while it was on. Middle
of the day, middle of the night—it didn’t matter. Put My
Dinner With Andre on, and I was out before the leads ordered
drinks. Every freakin’ time.
Privately, my self-esteem started to suffer.
Fortunately, the movie was not one that was likely to be bandied
about a whole lot among my peers, and the ones that were—films
by the Coen Brothers, for example, or David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch,
Hal Hartley, and so on—I had no problem with. Hell, I even
liked the stiff and snooty Whit Stillman stuff. I thought
Barcelona was funny, for chrissakes.
But My Dinner With Andre was beating me.
A normal, well-adjusted person would have given up on it altogether,
simply written it off as a phenomenally dull movie and moved
on. Yes, well, I’m sick, what do you want? I’m competitive
and intellectually masochistic. I mean, I once read a Chuck
Palahniuk book cover to cover, rather than admitting defeat.
It was like having the bends, but I finished it and, now,
I need never read him again. I have wrestled to the ground
works ranging from unwieldy, amateurish, slight, vulgar, self-indulgent,
tawdry, puerile and cowardly to purposely obscure, academically
insular, fey and even French. I finish what I start.
Cue music: I read both American Psycho and The Order
of Things—each twice.
But My Dinner With Andre had me on the ropes.
One winter, in the late ’90s, at a particularly low ebb in
my private life, I decided to give it another shot. I was
living in a working warehouse (whatever your fashionable loft-squatting
hipster friends tell you, by the way, this is not as much
fun as it sounds) and augmenting the insufficient efforts
of the mammoth, ceiling-mounted gas-heat blower with a regular
and liberal application of faux whiskey sours (Jim Beam and
Squirt. It’s disgusting). This seemed the perfect time to
have another run at the flick. And the strangest thing happened.
I fell asleep.
That’s not the strange part. The movie puts me to sleep; we’ve
established that. And, what’s more, I was drunk on bourbon
and citrus soda. So, no surprises there. But what was odd
was that I fell asleep just as Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn
are being seated and, when I awoke, I still heard Andre Gregory
talking but the image on the screen was of a dark-skinned
man clad in feathers running through a dense, vividly green—even
threateningly green—jungle. The camera work was shaky and
blurry, almost nauseatingly so. Gregory’s voice droned on
over the shot, and the contrast between his chirpy urbanity
and the unsettlingly intense, ambiguous and aboriginal scene
What the fuck is this? The emotional effect, I recall,
was like some evil combination of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild
Kingdom and The Most Dangerous Game.
And then I fell back asleep.
The next day I rewound and returned the movie. Some time thereafter
I was talking to a friend, a friend who had made it through
the movie, and I asked him if at some point the film ditched
Manhattanites-chatting-about-Manhattan format. “Oh, yeah,”
he said. “The one guy goes on and on about all these spiritual
experiences he’s had all over the world, with, like, fakirs
and swamis and stuff.”
Well, that explains it, I thought. That must have been what
But the thing is—I can now say, having made it through the
movie myself—it doesn’t explain it at all. In the film, Gregory
does go on about his tripped-out experiences. But he only
describes them. They’re never shown.
So, my theory is this: After years of struggling with the
movie, I had a Carlos Castaneda-style mystical experience.
The movie was sending me a message that I was to become the,
like, Rasputin to the New Yorker set. Had I run with
the vision, it might have taken me somewhere glorious and
weird—some private Star Chamber at the Russian Tea Room or
21. But, inattentive and insufficiently open to the rich and
giving mystery of My Dinner With Andre, I blew it.
And the only other movie that’s ever put me to sleep is Howard