03 August 2008
Coffee and Cigarettes, dir. Jim Jarmusch (2003)
I kinda made a joke after watching this that I felt like one of two things... and, you know, coffee's not a forbidden luxury over this way. Man, did I need a cigarette.
The film is about moments shared over coffee and smokes. Smokes are discussed in good ways and bad, as romantic (Paris in the '20s) and unhealthy (nicotine's use as an insecticide). The movie takes a sharp look at addiction and human impulse. I liked the style, I liked the writing (particularly the Bill Murray segment). And I spent much of the movie thinking about smoking: why I did it, why I'd keep doing it, why it makes a person so happy. It's not about pheromones and brain mutations, I decided, or whatever is supposed to make a smoker addicted. It's about comfort. It's about the singular space you're in when you smoke. The intimacy of it. The power. It's sorta sexual, too: you're mouth's involved, you're sucking, you're blowing, there's fire, you're feeling amazing, you know you shouldn't but you really want to...
Some of the greatest moments in my life are usually capped by a smoke. When I think about America with Ashley, we always mention the smoking, and she didn't light up once. I think about scouting 7/11 stores for menthols at 2am finding success at the Braddock Rd gas station; and when Ashley and I walked about 25 blocks just for Denny's waffles and she pondered the necessity of the smoking section at the restaurant by saying: "Well, no one comes here to not smoke."
I think about clubs with Deb and Brendan, when in one of our first outings together Brendan taught us how to smoke with the cigarette lit-end in our mouths and how while practising we accidentally smoked about 30 cigs between us. I remember how I gave up smoking in Year 12 for a guy only to start again a year later in order to properly bond with Deb at uni. I remember the first time I ever smoked, at Rowena's farmhouse with Trish when I was 15: Winnie Blues. We were so cool, though I later thought that if I changed to PJ Ones, it would be more healthy.
They're not all good memories, though. I tried to kick the addiction for good pretty much throughout my entire 20s. I had some highs and lows, and, if I think about it, again the significant moments in my life -- this time not too good moments -- were because of cigarettes. I think about my clandestine relationship with the smoke. Running and hiding to have one, relishing moments alone to smoke, carrying Impulse around in my bag to spray in my hair, mints to clear my breath, and knowing it never worked. I would smoke in the shower -- that's how hopeless I was at one point. I'd smoke two or three in quick succession just because I knew I might not get another chance. I smoked more trying not to smoke than I ever did as an actual smoker! And I used my cigarettes as my saviour when I wasted a year's worth of evenings as a delivery girl on a pittance wage. I barely made it out of that job alive, and I credit cigarettes for keeping me somewhat sane.
But I managed to quit. Or, at least to stop. I'm a bit like Tom Waits in this movie -- I've quit, so it's okay to have one. That's not going to make sense to many people, but I almost cried when he said it, because it's absolutely true. There's a difference between addiction and just feeling like having one. We do so many things every day that are dangerous or unhealthy, but we do them anyway out of convenience, impatience, laziness. We eat terribly, we drive too fast, drink too much. How much consideration do we give to that extra bag of chips, that extra five kms, the extra bourbon? Are we suffering addictions to those things, too? Now, after 14 years, I don't feel the pull of the cigarette. I don't have that drive to smoke. I don't feel like I'll die without them. I don't immediately correlate anger or fear with smoking to calm down. I've reprogrammed, and I feel better, mentally and physically healthier, and less stressed.
But there are those days, man, when the only thing that will satisfy is that suck and blow, and I've quit, so what would it hurt?
Watching a Jim Jarmusch film, to me, is like watching the freshly painted Mona Lisa dry: It's beautiful, but it's still just paint, innit?
Most of the stories here were not stories at all, just people sitting around talking about - say it with me - coffee and cigarettes, and the pros and cons thereof. Some were good; Cousins with Cate Blanchett in a double role was interesting, an investigation of family ties and the perception of class distinction. Coincidentally, Cousins? with Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan was also very good, Molina trying to convince an unimpressed Coogan that they're cousins, only to have Coogan change his tune when he learns that Molina might be able to get him in good with director Spike Jonze. Otherwise, we're just looking at people sit and drink and smoke for five to ten minutes, and how interesting can that really be?