and sometimes poetry

Barney’s Version (2010) | Review by Mark Leidner

Ten thousand generations were born, struggled with nature, made love, waged war, bore young, feared death, gazed into the grief-guitared eyes of their survivors, and then died—before we even discovered language. Ten thousand generations of joy, terror, and bewilderment—multiplied laterally across all the people in each generation— mothers, fathers, hunters, explorers, gatherers, thieves, weaklings, strangers—all before anyone we even know of was born. Sometimes this perspective buoys me when angst and longing have wound a ball of anxiety so tight behind my eyes I feel I might explode against the nearest brick wall. Even the comfort literature offers, like a pillow of all-time’s futile similarity to the present, is dwarfed by it. Those lost consciousnesses from which we all came, like an extra layer of past wrapped loosely around the already unfathomable body of known history, wrapped tighter around the unfathomable body of the present, form a kind of dim, halotic corona. An orb bereft of detail and of a scale too epic to picture. But still I like to think about it, when I want to tint the possibly tedious talk of say, reviewing another movie, with mystery. I picture this idea like the belt of golden letters scrolling backward at the beginning of Star Wars, before the movie of the review begins. Barney’s Version is about a man’s life. Not a particularly likeable man, and not a particularly interesting life, but its particularity is in its totality of scope. Had it been shot and scripted by Mike Leigh instead of Richard J. Lewis and Michael Konyves, B’s V might have been able to overcome uneven pacing, some forced plotting, and visual style that sags as much as it blossoms. But I still wept walking out of the theater, and on the walk home as the clock on my cellphone struck midnight, pulling close the collar of my jacket, zipping up because the temperature had plummeted ten degrees during the 132-minute runtime, watching the shadows cast by the streetlight stretch and collapse on the sidewalk under my shoes as I stepped, I felt saddened and buoyed by the stupid similarity of the titular character’s plight to my own, flooded with gratitude for how many scenes in which I’d silently pled with him to wake up, simply forgive himself, love himself and allow himself to be loved; wiping tears and flinging them into the Northampton night with the side of my hand, knowing I too could change if only because I’d wanted Barney to so badly. The cast shines. Dustin Hoffman oozes charm. Minnie Driver cloys lusciously. Rosamund Pike is the womanly embodiment of dawn. And pasty, bloated Paul Giamatti fucks bad acting in the ass with a skyscraper. Gorged on popcorn and tortured by thirst, I climbed the two flights of stairs into my dark apartment. Light painted my profile as I opened the refrigerator, found the Brita, and poured a cord of cold water into the bottom of the Jacksonville Jaguars glass I’d drawn from the cupboard. The music made as it struck and filled and danced into the vessel echoed the voice of an ancient angel.

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