The Monsters and the Moviegoer

J.B. Toner is a graduate of the school of hard knocks, author of The Bent Universe, and frequent contributor to Dappled Things. Mr. Toner guest posted here at Korrektiv back in December and we’re delighted that he has returned to contribute, with his usual vigor and verve, to our celebration of Walker Percy’s birthday and the 50th annivesary of The Moviegoer.

Everything begins with a question. Is a seeker, an exile, one who accepts himself as lost, a hundred miles ahead of or a hundred miles behind those overwhelming millions who feel they’ve found God and, in acquiring, locked Him in a hoard and ceased to look at Him? Bolling professes ignorance, but Percy himself is clearly prepared to take a stab at the answer. Tepidity is the malaise, and the “malaisians” (frown: does he mean people from May—ohhhh, I see) are mostly content to float along in the brine, half-alive, letting the mud of the City of Man keep the flies off. “No more heart’s desire for her, thank you.” The “haters” are alive, Binx contends. Kate, sustained by the ever-present option of suicide, is alive after a fashion. He himself slouches from day to day grubbing for money and sex as an attenuated stimulant, caffeine for a speed-freak (“We have to get out of this hole, boys! Dig faster!”)—but he has at least the sense to perceive that only disaster can break the hold of the quotidian, the “everydayness.” You could go so far as to argue that the only really whole person in the story is Lonnie, the dying cripple, sort of a Tiny Tim Catholicized out of his Dickensian mawkishness: freed from the everyday by virtue of existing in a continual state of disaster. But for my money, I’ll take Aunt Emily. (We can’t all be child-saints, after all.) She may not have Lonnie’s humility—okay, she definitely doesn’t have Lonnie’s humility—but by God, the woman’s got heart. “In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is the victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man.” Yes! Death is the mother of beauty. Luck often enough will save a man if his courage holds. Fill your hands, you son of a bitch! There’s certainly nothing wrong with going to the movies—as long as one does so, whether for rest or inspiration, in between fighting the monsters. It doesn’t seem to occur to Kate, for example, to try volunteering at a soup kitchen: entering other people’s disasters to help bring life to both them and herself. She won’t thereby end poverty, hunger, misery; that is not the destiny of goodness on earth. But better a defeated hero than a victorious monster—and better anything at all than a Moviegoer. I like to think Binx gets that by the end.


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    Thanks Mr. Toner.

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