Table of contents



First, we see Aubrey, a young American girl pushed by her French lover out of the apartment. He’s left her, more callous than cruel. Then we see too-earnest Jimmy & Hall, mocked by gold-coat girl Vicky – she is a somebody, they are nobodies. She cannot conceive Frenchmen, they are chasing after French women. She has been living in Paris, they have only recently moved. She works, they are losers.

Then Sandro says, Anglo-men, unlike European men, are pushed around. This is likely true – but they defend themselves, Anglo-women push them around, who are fearsome. Sandro knows that European women push them around, too. It’s open season on Anglo men, he says. These soft men trying to become Parisians are going to learn for themselves how hard it is to meet women.

Hal talks about the little-understood, less-pitied loneliness of soft expats. His only guide to Paris – upper-class, flamboyant, irresponsible Fritz, who also knows people who are not criminals. His only defense – Sandro, who exhibits & teaches the continental contempt for women. His only friend – Jimmy, who narrates his life & worries about songs that might depress him.

They all meet at Fritz’s party, where seeking beautiful, angelic Frenchwomen. Fritz tells Hal affairs need not be decadent – one could go hiking. Hal leaves to meet the woman who keeps breaking his heart, presumably because losers never quit either. The high points is the dance scene – pairs start doing the Sambola. Except Fritz, who watches on, & Sandro, who gets kicked out because he’s inviting drug dealers to a respectable place. Presumably, Fritz does not want his parents’ home tarnished with his habits.

This is only an overture, but we shan’t get the operetta, so we only see suggestions. Aubrey is surprised fashion journalist Vicky is a sight – she expected anger to look ugly. Aubrey demurs when Vicky disdains her newfound friends. She herself has been driven by bad judgment about love to Paris. But good judgment about love might also be at home in Paris. Not among the French, though – they are married, divorced, with children, affairs, & late parties. A sophisticated, irresponsible race with no thought of the future.

This might look like expat losers, but expats have no past & love France’s Romantic past; & anyway, love lives in the future. Sandro notes American expats love sad stories – they are able to commiserate & inclined to be helpful, not least because they know they need help themselves. The continentals are both passionate & contemptuous, both sophisticated & corrupt, because they do not believe that the helpless good become otherwise. But if you put together the sympathy of the boys with the girl’s judgment, you see promise.

Whit Stillman’s show, hopefully. Take a look, & take a look, too, at his movies. The pilot is available online…

Damsels in distress

Love in the democratic college

Seven Oaks is a highly exclusive college where young men & women have recently been allowed to attend together, wherefore they have proceeded to turn it into barbarian pleasures, depression, & suicide prevention centers. Love is nearly wiped out, it would seem, but for the efforts of too earnest girls who mean to make social work out of the difficulties of our very individualistic age, & teach people what is really good for them: Dancing.

Common sense just sounds funny in the mouths of people who completely lack self-knowledge. Yet these girls should not come to a bad end, we think. They wish to help, & do no harm. Violet leads them to fight depression, they all know men are the cause, but they have never been in love, nor do they have good judgment. They know that vying for prestige is the wrong way to go about love. So they look for mediocrity.

They also come up with a surprisingly obvious solution to the problem of the modern college. Young men & women do not dance together in the ways that foster both group conversations & possibilities for intimate interviews while gentling fear & anger by harmony & melody. The girls even figure that this is good therapy for anyone in a funk. Pleasure, they suggest, should lead people to happiness.

The problem the girls face is the incredible vulnerability of women in a democratic age. The society is no longer there to protect them & they are inclined to love. They prefer morons, because they are undeceptive. ‘Playboy operators’ are what Rose fears, but the real problem is more vulgar: Young men are an erection away from breaking at least one young woman’s heart at an age where erections have an unusual influence on a young man’s life.

Then there is another thing – a man showing attention will often persuade a woman to go with him & that leads to her trying to earn or deserve that attention. Attention & expectation are how seduction works. Lily, a freshman, with all the warnings & assistance of the other girls, falls for a man who typifies a kind of life that cannot lead to a happy family.

It is not at all obvious that the girls have any chance of success, precisely because they lack prestige. Their attempt to take responsibility for the college scene is irresponsible. Social life depends on society & they misunderstand individualism. They try a dance craze – the Sambola – which fails, which is exactly what would happen, but it is not what should happen. Their failure, however, is useful, & a happy end: They learn about the inclusive & exclusive qualities of fun, courtship, & love.

Stillman on college life. A gentle version of Tom Wolfe.

Last days of disco

Finding love after the ‘summer of love’

This is a story about dancing coming back to America. Again, there would be youths in society, dancing, having fun, & drinking, & looking for love. Youth believes pleasure is the road to happiness. Youth lacks, however, in good judgment & democratic youth neither knows nor wants authorities. This causes trouble, & a new opportunity for poetry. Democratic freedom tolerates the public appearance of poets who can please.

Two handsome girls, out of college, working in publishing in Manhattan, are our protagonists. They enjoy disco clubs. Charlotte is a deluded character – callous, a snob, promiscuous, sexually, & rather unaware of her faults, likely because she is pretty, clever, & has some taste in music & clothes, though not in men. Alice is kind, shy, & afraid she does not shine; her moral & musical taste seem sound, but her judgment is not what it should be, or at least her confidence.

A parade of young men enter their lives, who are meant to show the variety of men open to a young woman who does not incline to tragedy. Quietly, educating without moralism, the poet shows how society defends women against men, how judgment can be improved by conversation, how men choose between pleasure & the virtues of the husband – honesty, responsibility, justice, & an inclination to a woman’s guidance.

The disco club offers everything these girls seek & allows them to shine. It is both inclusive, so that women are not offended, & exclusive, so that they are flattered. Several types of men are seen typically at the club & several types of women, but happiness is not really an option for all. A mixture of gentility & judgment is required here, because the fun & the splendor can easily corrupt either or both.

The inclusive quality of the disco is of the age of individualism. This is not a place for couples; no group is really safe from the fluidity that the music imparts to the dancers. This is both good & bad for young women. The variety is united by dancing & having fun with strangers, which should make people less angry or suspicious. Imagine a world where strangers dance all friendly-like in the subway, rather than avoid each other & cringe.

The exclusive quality is something else. God-kings dress brilliantly, & many others who wish to stand out in the crowd. Fun comes too easily & therefore becomes hard to get – the club has to keep people out for any number of reasons, mostly because they do not look right. But also bourgeois success or respectability is intolerable – probably, the bourgeois are too judgmental & unwilling to try new things…

Stillman’s story about how a young thoughtful woman could go through her youth having fun & falling in love


Love fighting against anti-Americanism

Cousins Ted & Fred seek love in Barcelona at the end of the Cold War. Ted knows the place – promiscuous women & rampant, ignorant anti-Americanism. Fred says, it’s known that anti-Americanism is based in sexual impotence & anti-Nato is for-Soviets racing across Europe eating all the croissants. Fred is a Navy lieutenant. Ted says the sexual revolution came to Europe, turned it upside down & it has stayed that way – Fred might prefer it this way.

They are too involved with their jobs & lives to enjoy the beautiful city. Ted is afraid he’ll lose his sales job, which he neither loves nor does very well; he’s learned that positive thinking is really depressive. His private life of fun is reading the Bible & swing dancing. Fred finds sado-masochism more comprehensible that that; he is afraid he’s not bright, so he chose the Navy, & he therefore gets shot in the head by a terrorist. Those draft-dodger college hippies had it right…

Ted is a decent young man who is looking for marriage, but does not show any particular ability to find or persuade a young woman. One of the Spanish girls calls early thoughts about marriage fascist. Just like hating the power that keeps them safe requires sophisticated thinking, so also does defending the kind of cads who break her heart.

But the truth about this promiscuity seems even more vulgar: It’s just childhood in the age of democracy. Untaught about the relation between good judgment & natural inclination, the Europeans start out with democratic lawlessness in their private life & thereafter are incapable of seeing any alternative. Their descriptions of American evil, stupidity, & pleasures are rather amusing, but not instructive. Stillman thus shows the truth behind the liberal-new left hippie love – lawlessness & immorality are neither a recipe for happiness, nor the consequence of wisdom.

Fred sees far more hatred because he is less polite & unassuming. He does not care about right & wrong up until he sees all the ugliness, betrayal, & danger. This corresponds to the speeches in which he defends America & her cause against critics who are nothing better than spoiled brats. &, too, justified outrage is a good fit for a man inclined to give offense. Fred is worthy to wear the uniform because he honors the death of another serviceman & endures well the other terrorist attack.

But he knows a few things about women – you have to make yourself interesting & dance. He is uninterested in jazz that cannot be danced & unimpressed with people who think it’s too early in the evening to dance. Like the poet, he invents outrageous lies to make Ted interesting to women.

This is the only Stillman story where the young men look for love, not the women, & it shows uglier things.


Love in the high class

Audrey Rouget is a debutante. Metropolitan is the story of her group of friends in the season she came out – that is, into society. Audrey has a good education & rather good judgment. She has no experience, however. This story is a conflict between judgment & experience. She exemplifies judgment; the specimens that exemplify experience are called, respectively, a slut & ‘one of the worst people of modern times’ – the male of the pair, that is. Audrey is humiliated by the former & risks her honor at the hands of the other.

Her friends are also rather inexperienced, but they are not as kind as Audrey – they are comparatively modern. Strip poker is a society thing, it would seem. A rather unpleasant version of truth or dare likewise. Presumably, this is because they do not have the sense to gossip.

Audrey falls for a strange, funny young man called Tom. He is an admirer of the socialist Fourier, she of Austen. He dislikes the debutante balls on principle, but would like to see what he dislikes – she likes her friends, the conversations, dresses, dancing, & would like an escort, Tom. But his youthful idealism largely he means he does not think of others’ feelings or the small commitments required by manners & conventions.

Tom says what Audrey believes to be true: One should not fall in love of a sudden, utterly without judgment, but over time, as one grasps the character of the object of one’s affection. Of course, she has all the more reason to doubt herself when Tom is relapsing into a fling with a woman of no comparable ability, one more irresponsible & inconsiderate than Tom himself. Audrey learns what it’s like to see a man with whom she could be happy not give her any chance to show him, even as they converse & grow affectionate.

There are two moralists in the group. Nick is a man with no respect for people’s feelings, because such respect would shut him out of society. He rather attends parties uninvited than thinks to earn invitations. He contemns the society which is his only chance at friendship & cannot have a high opinion of himself, inasmuch as he goes the girl he calls a slut. Nick alone risks scandal & harm to destroy the reputation of a cad.

Charles is the defender rather of the bourgeoisie. It is moral, productive – civilized. It has moral standards that should cause a reasonable pride & incur a natural gratitude, even affection. Yet every term by which they are called is pejorative. This group of friends shows the relationship between friendship & character, but Charles is too invested in thinking the bourgeoisie doomed.

Whit Stillman’s first movie, a charming look at romantic youths before the sexual revolution took over.


This story should be called A bear with no teeth in it.

Here’s a delightful movie for kids, which either is describing or attempting to create the world in which they live. I want to take a few notes on the fight between oligarchy & democracy. The story is set in our times, but it includes two crucial scenes about the origins of our times–both must have been set in the 1960’s, the worst decade for social change since the 1790’s.

The future is going to be about acceptance of individual differences, which goes far beyond tolerance. The past was about how being British was best. The future is the democracy of individualism where family will disappear – equal individuals cannot spank, ground or order each other around, of course. The past is about oligarchic exploitation – or empire. Back then geographers were explorers – conquerors – imperialists. People once said, the sun never sets on the British Empire. But the sun has long set on the British Empire.

Why is London beautiful except for her glorious past? The aristocratic age had a dedication to beauty impossible in a democracy. The democratic age is ugly, but fair, or just. People are no longer exploited. But any given family would have to combine the two, like good government in London has to work hard & pay a lot of money to preserve the old glory.

But London is not only beautiful architecturally – she also had nobility. In London, men faced the Blitz (unlike cowardly Paris). Back then, decency rose to astounding heights & Englishmen took each other’s kids as their own, because their need for protection & their innocence were exactly what they wanted to defend from tyranny. Cute little Paddington, an English-speaking bear from darkest Peru, wants to find a home as well, but finds instead that the extraordinary moral intensity of war feeling has dissipated to every-man-for-himself democratic individualism.

Maybe the father of the family wants to protect his family from people like himself: People who acquire for themselves & care not a whit about others. The wife & kids want the bohemian life, but it’s the bourgeois man who pays for it. Who is ruler, the man who knows how to earn money or the woman who knows how to spend it? The father who wants security or the kids who want happiness?

In the 1960’s, the parents were hippies. She stayed hippie, he did not, because he assumed the responsibilities of fatherhood. Are hippies good parents? Is there no justice in a father beating his children? At the same time, two explorers fought over what it means to be civilized. The way it’s shown – one of them wanted slavery, exploitation, appropriation of foreign cultures, everything evil. The other is everyone alive today.

The movie for families to see come Christmas.

Interstellar 3

A few notes on love, by way of apology

I have tried to say a few things about how we tend to get the question about wisdom wrong – we sell men of action short, we are too easy about trusting scientists to know what to do. But the contest is not merely about knowing what to do to bring things to a good end. How to think about people & how to live with one’s people are also concerns.

It’s obvious at first that the lies scientists tell each other & mankind have to do with not understanding love. One of them abandons a lover at least; another shows little love for a father. All of them pretend they are alone already. Trust these creatures with the fate of mankind? Will abstract thoughts on species prevent the very real thoughts about one’s own good? Science rules out sacrifice & miracles, anyway…

Two women scientists learn what love really means. Dr. Brand, Jr. first makes a terrible mistake in her arrogance & an arrogant man dies for it. Then she chooses love, presumably, because she is really scared & does not care about the men actually with her on the mission. Her excuses should tell us just how self-serving our democratic idealism really is. No wonder she liked to believe the silly professions of selflessness of the scientists.

She does get to the planet she wants to see, only to bury the man she wanted to see. This is right – her love was a phantom at best. But she has the chance to see the part of love that matters – sacrifice. Among the dead, one guilty, another innocent, only one man willingly dies for the good of someone else, to whom he is not obligated. Only after this can the woman be trusted.

Murph learns about love another way. She grows up angry that her father never listened to her: She really wants to believe it could have been otherwise. It is inevitable that a child throw a tantrum or become hateful. How could she understand that necessity may overcome will? The child knows that it is owed love – knowing this is knowing so little that the child cannot even tell that she’s being paid what’s she’s owed. Her brother shows you how angry men can get when they feel life didn’t give them what they were owed.

Murph learns to love her father by learning to be like him, to face evil & despair without madness. To sacrifice her own wishes for the good of other people. To do more than justice requires or can offer. Thinking about her father & doing his work both show love. Happily, a theoretical problem & self-understanding come together in her case.

Interstellar 2

The proof of heroism in story through crisis
Some notes on the meaning of wisdom

Cooper has to deal with a number of scientists who lie to him. All these people show you the problem with the tyranny of the wise – it requires abandoning consent as a political principle, which means it requires a grand lie, which makes it impossible for the wise tyrant to think of himself as a human being anymore. If you make it your business to predict the future & see it through, you cannot distinguish between your good & the good you mean to achieve in the future. The consequence is that conventions replace human reasoning & everyone is trapped in the grand lie. The lie may conceal naked self-interest or hopelessness, but it is not fit to rule human beings either way.

Brand Sr. lies to him about saving mankind, because he needs Cooper to believe in his family. He thinks himself immune to such needs, but what he really does is condemn mankind. His failure as a scientist is the failure of our physics: It is both too practical & too theoretical, because it does not know it is the work of humans. Don’t let’s put it in charge of our lives…

Brand Jr. lies to him about her love. This could have prevented great trouble, but it would have ended mankind. She thinks of love as self-interest & has no understanding of sacrifice. She seems to have learned from her father to think she is superior to anyone she can deceive. She soon learns about death & loss… It is fitting that she should try to mother mankind, because she is not corrupt, just arrogant.

Mann lies to everyone about the future just to save his life. Mankind’s future & murder right now are ok with him, because he has convinced himself that whatever weakness is in him is worse in others. His certainty that science predicts the future & gives the scientist control over the world made him completely unable to face the thought of death. This guy’s the only monster, so he’s the only one who really gives you justifications – he says, no one should judge him who was not tested like him. Suddenly, morality & experience take precedence of science!

Cooper shares in the arrogance of science, which seems to be a part of manliness. It is partially a mistake, but without it, there is no knowledge, because only manliness makes men take seriously their perspective & its predicament. That’s a start to thinking about humanity.

Cooper’s willingness to serve as farmer shows endurance & self-control; at a different level, this is the prudence that guides him in his daring adventure. Unlike the scientists, he understands suffering & sacrifice. He shows nobility they lack.

Interstellar 1

A story about how heroism means caring about what’s good for people
Some notes on the relation between manliness & hope, & how science might be compatible with piety

Sci-fi stories are imaginations about the future of mankind, whether good or bad. – Survival vs. destruction. Happy end or not. Hope vs. despair or resignation. – We know the end, & we know that all human things are about changing or staying the same, all human powers are powers to change for the better or to fight against change for the worse – like cosmetics. Science is the means.

So, we ask Nolan: Does science create radical change – transforming humans into gods? Maybe; & maybe people want it. What would it mean for human beings to become gods? Apparently, disembodied timelessness – the inability to act in the here-&-now. Scientific progress gets us there eventually. Abandoning home is just the first step. – Think about beings reaching into their human past to make themselves into the gods they have become. It’s like eternal recurrence of the same.

The planet stops growing us food. We have to turn to the skies. If science is a divine gift, you could say a miracle makes it possible for people to go about populating the skies rather than starving to death on the earth. Or maybe we have to learn to stop thinking that the world is good for us, because it makes us careless about securing our own good. Generation has to be replaced by art.

Some obnoxious liberal looks back on the 20th century in disbelief at the excess & pride of civilization. He would rather mankind suffer than survive. The most audacious fighting faith we know, liberalism, ends up with suicidal types showing affection to kids. They have learned that man is fated & will coddle kids into the same, one good kindly thought at a time.

Our hero, Cooper, is his son. He cannot complain because the burden would cripple him. He decides to abandon home & family to go into the stars. Manly daring, for once, is fully in the service of a man’s duties as father & leader. If love is a home for the homeless, this man might defend humanity after all.

He faces scientists who seem to think pretty much the way the liberal fogey does: Intellectual superiority creates no responsibilities in the few to protect the many. Human beings cannot live without hope in something good, but the possibility of the good forces us to reconsider the relation between what we could call intellectual excellence & moral excellence. Witness the conflict between the scientists & the manly hero. He always judges whether caution or daring is more prudent. He shows us something we find hard to believe, that reasoning is a practical business available to human beings – not the power of some superior bureaucrats of life who enslave us.

Christopher Nolan’s story about mankind’s future & the closest he comes to a happy end. This year’s Hollywood movie, in fact the Hollywood movie for a number of years…


A story about what can keep men from turning into beasts

Fury is the proper reaction to Nazis. American soldiers kill whatever Germans they can in the fights; they do take prisoners, except that they hate SS troops especially, who hang children, among other things. Germans are hateful because they cause Americans to do & suffer hateful things. The doing of hateful things is necessary for survival, & therefore for justice – America’s cause is just.

The Americans would rather not be there – the tank commander says he’s been killing since he started & means to kill everyone who needs to be killed before it’s over. When it’s over, he’s done killing; he does not kill civilians. It does not matter to him where he was asked to kill Germans, although he senses progress in killing them in their homeland, for the defense of which he does not blame them, nor for their fanatical commitment.

Wardaddy is hated by his troops, who thank him – they owe their lives to obedience. He has kept them alive when so many others die. They are extremely competent. But he has made them do what was necessary to live. You look at them in fear of the monsters they threaten to become – in wonder at their nobility in face of horror. As they are bringing the end of the world to Germany, the end comes for them; in their hopelessness, they turn to God & act like men.

This natural captain says, ideals are peaceful, history is violent. Is that entirely true? Maybe compared with history, ideals are peaceful. This is the only theoretical or pedantic statement in the story – it is addressed to the only musical type. Wardaddy means to say the American ideal of equality is peaceful; he has learnt things since he started fighting wars – what it takes to defend that ideal. Men cannot have peace, although they believe in equality.

Wardaddy knows many things, which he only deploys by necessity, whether German or the Bible, good manners or an appeal to nobility. He asks his newcomer, a soft boy, to kill a defenseless man. Innocent men get real soldiers killed because they are unwilling to kill children. The boy would rather suffer than commit murder. This has got to stop. He must abandon all thought of peace if he is ever to see it again.

It is not easy to say in what these men put their faith who abandon humanity. Fury is a good name for a tank; the boy is nicknamed Machine. These men have a lot to be angry about & maybe anger can save them, their bodies or their souls or both. It reminds them they are who they are. When they can, they look for happiness.

David Ayer follows his powerful story about brotherly love among policemen–End of watch–with an even more powerful story about the brotherly love of soldiers. This is not a movie for women.