love streams (1984)
"Love is a stream, it's never ending". Love is multiple streams that we pick up, put down and re-enter when we'd least expect it. Love is a state of being that we engage in when we feel that we have love to give. For Cassavetes, whose life had been a long stream of directorial masterpieces, deep performances and alcoholism, the fear of death brought something out in him that had never been tapped into, and an earnest artist put forth his absolute best on all fronts. It's only circumstantial to call it a "late life" opus (Cassavetes died five years later), he directed Love Streams at an age when many artists, filmmakers in particular, are in their prime. Glorious, as always is Gina Rowlands. Both of their scenes, whether together or apart, hit deep at what makes people tick; a kind of understanding of the multidimensional nature of the human mind, its ability to center on a frame of reference for its own nature, what it is, and to block out erroneous or unpleasant details. What we do to each other, the unintended results as we move on, forced into it by time itself in some way, thirsty always for a moment of pause, just to stop the blur of a quickly spinning world. Perhaps Love Streams' best moments come out of interior thoughts manifest into cinema; how simple it all is when those other people obey our frame, live by our center of gravity, in our imagination. How well we come off in the scene when we're the star of the show, and how sorry they look being on the wrong side of the fence. How obvious it is to ourselves that we're doing the right thing, how confused and foolish everyone else must be, maybe they didn't hear us correctly, maybe they weren't paying attention. We were right, you know? The decisions we made, the things we did, if only they could see it from our perspective, walk in our shoes, they'd see. We were right.
The streams diverge, they come back together, and calm waters turn to rapids when they do. Cassavetes captures like nothing else the deranged human tendency for justification, how it bleeds into each reactionary and unplanned decision after the fact. The purity of the act, how shamelessly we live until the voice of justification whispers in our ear. Soon we're grasping at straws, explaining our actions to others, whether they questioned our behavior or not. There's always a good explanation, but we live on the surface of one another, making contact between surfaces, but never contact of mind, spirit. We remain at a distance from one another, mediated by a judge, whether physically or in our own psyche. We imagine the questions of others and begin to answer without provocation. Cassavetes films have always succeeded largely because they are not attempting to tell us a story, rather the people that we see onscreen are trying to live; false personas, characters, fighting, spitting mad, to become real, as real as they can be. Yet, somehow, they are displaced. They can't put their finger on what is awry, they navigate a cinematic terrain that is as real and false as they are, they try to come to terms with their own falsehood and come up empty every time; characters in a film they don't understand, playing roles they got lost in so long ago they can't remember where it all began let alone the lines. Though facing opposition, they reject living life with opponents, instead choosing to drift in and out of good times, turning on the juke box in between tracks of life, dancing even when the music isn't playing. All conclusion is rejected, all rhythms of life are kept up, on tempo, never missing a beat and all the time wondering why. It doesn't take long to realize that this charade will go round and round until eventually drifting off into the eternal. Cassavetes final thoughts on life, people, the world, etc. seem to be thus; when you really look at it, I mean really look at it, it's all beauty, even the ugly parts. Even the parts that by all rights and justification should strike us as unforgivable, shameful, eliciting guilt or any such emotion, we're alive. When life comes to a close and the curtain falls nothing else will matter except whether or not you lived at 90mph and never slowed down, not for an instant. What is there to hold onto? It is the mark of a free mind, an unflinching artist, to truly communicate between the two worlds. Love Streams plays like an extended inner voice, like Rowlands' unforgettable fantasy sequences, for a dying man's dying dream, the last thought that crosses a human mind before it's extinguished. To catch this moment and distill it is nothing short of miraculous in filmmaking.
We get ideas in our heads, we get carried away with them, we resist the comedown with every fiber in our being; that 'wake up' call that life in this world is everyone's equal dream and not simply our own. Around each corner lies the next generation, quiet, marginalized and ignored by their parent who's trying to figure their own life out. Is it tragic? Are these casualties? Or just another stream of consciousness in a body, pulled in the current like the rest of us? We run to one pair of loving arms, only to repel them and run to another. Today's hero is tomorrow's fraud, and back again. Love, the film seems to eventually posit, comes from trying to do for another what we should have been doing for ourselves all along. What we need most, we try to give to the one we love, even if it isn't at all what they need. Desires and actions that solve yesterday's problems and leave today wide open. With such an open canvas, Cassavetes leaves Love Streams open for meditations to enter its own celluloid, are we seeing the film that he made? Are we seeing the film we imprint on what he made? For a master of the art form to leave us with these final burning questions is what any human does for another in love. We don't offer answers, we don't know them ourselves, we offer what we've seen and hope it's a piece of the puzzle another was missing. If anything, Love Streams eventually leaves us with that notion. Hope.