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The Moviegoer’s Ending

Nick Ripatrazone is the author of Oblations and the proprietor of The Fine Delight where he moderates an ongoing series of interviews with notable Catholic writers. Nick’s writing has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review, National Catholic Reporter, Caketrain, Sou’wester, Annalemma, The Collagist, SmokeLong Quarterly and Beloit Fiction Journal. As part of our celebration of Walker Percy’s birthday and the 50th anniversary of The Moviegoer, we invited Nick to contribute a piece and he was kind enough to take a break from his other projects and oblige us with this look at the novel’s ending.

The final section of The Moviegoer occurs during a landmark in Binx’s life: “today is my 30th birthday.” Binx has just taken his step-cousin, Kate, to Chicago. They slept together on the train there, and upon his return to New Orleans, Binx receives an infamous ribbing from his Aunt Emily, the same woman who asked for Binx’s help earlier in the novel: “I want you to do whatever it was you did before you walked out on us, you wretch. Fight with her, joke with her–the child doesn’t laugh.” Binx is now broken and quiet: “my search has been abandoned; it is no match for my aunt, her rightness and despair, her despairing of me and her despairing of herself.”

“It is Ash Wednesday”: the genesis of Lent looms over the entirety of the novel. Binx sits with Kate in her car, a 1951 Plymouth, outside of a church. Marriage is on their horizon; Aunt Emily’s judgment looms. Binx shrugs: “There is only one thing I can do: listen to people, see how they stick themselves into the world, hand them along a ways in their dark journey and be handed along, and for good and selfish reasons.”

Binx’s opportunity arrives in the form of “a florid new Mercury” and a man “more respectable than respectable; he is more middle-class than one could believe.” Percy’s choice of a black Catholic at this juncture in a largely white novel might be easily misread. But the choice is absolutely appropriate and necessary. The man’s blackness ferments him socioeconomically, an identity so closely wedded to his community spiritual frame. Additionally, Binx has self-identified–in a largely light-hearted way–as a populist-capitalist, a “citizen” of America firmly in the majority. Percy’s social concerns stretched beyond the page: he was deemed “very active” in trying to “put an end to some of the social hardships of being black” in Covington, Louisiana (Walker Percy Remembered).

Percy returns to the conversation, and Kate’s roundabout way of proclaiming her love for Binx: “I’m frightened when I am alone and I am frightened when I am with people. The only time I’m not frightened is when I’m with you.” All the while, Kate has been “plucking at her thumb in earnest, tearing away little shreds of flesh.” Her body is revealed at the start of the season when the Catholic body is made new.

The narrative then moves back, again, to the action of the man exiting the church. It is the final part of the novel proper, and worth quoting in full:

“The Negro has already come outside. His forehead is an ambiguous sienna color and pied: it is impossible to be sure that he received ashes. When he gets in his Mercury, he does not leave immediately but sits looking down at something on the seat beside him. A sample case? An insurance manual? I watch him closely in the rear-view mirror. It is impossible to say why he is here. Is it part and parcel of the complex business of coming up in the world? Or is it because he believes that God himself is present here at the corner of Elysian Fields and Bons Enfants? Or is he here for both reasons: through some dim dazzling trick of grace, coming for the one and receiving the other as God’s own importunate bonus?

It is impossible to say.”

An epilogue exists for The Moviegoer, but I pay it little mind. The book is finished with those 5 words, and that most complicated image and concept: will we ever know when God has been met and experienced? Binx accepts the unknowing; he proceeds forward on faith. He has become, finally, Catholic.

Comments

  1. Mr. Ripatrazone,

    Thanks so much for the insights. There’s something to be said for paying attention to the liturgical seasons. In Moby Dick, Ishmael began his sojourn at Christmas and ended around Easter, if I’m not mistaken.

    Also I’m reminded of something I read somewhere about Percy’s eye for detail, especially when it came to automobiles. The fact that Binx’s insight comes on the heels of a “Mercury” has all sorts of connotations and impolcations.

    I wonder whether the actual terminal ending of the novel might not further support what you’re saying.

    After all, even as Binx and Kate prepares to put on the “new man,” it is interesting to note that the novel ends with Binx and a new family.

    At the novel’s opening, he was summoned to the Old/New South of his father’s house and yet the true patrimony comes from the New/Old South of his Mother’s house. There are some slight janglings of Judaic law here, but also faint echoes of Christ’s own geneology…

    And I can’t help but think there’s something about the importance of family holding out throughout the work as a whole.

    JOB

  2. Jonathan Webb says:

    Great post.

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