25 May 2012

Following Scripts

There is that sequence in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid after the two men and Etta, having escaped capture in the United States, try to start a new life in Bolivia. Soon, however, they grow bored: after all, all they know how to do is rob banks!!  They prepare to rob a bank.  First, they begin to scout out the target, but when they enter the bank, the friendly bank guard inquires if the two need assistance, Butch stares incredulously at the guard who speaks to them in rapid Spanish, a language that Butch does not understand. He can’t read the script. Butch’s face registers a shocked wonder that everything he and Sundance had known about robbing banks in the past will not suffice here in Bolivia: they are literally in unknown territory. No one here speaks English. None of their scripts will suffice. How can they rob a bank when no one understands what they say?
And so Butch and the Sundance Kid return home where Etta teaches them the basic Spanish script that they will need to enable them to rob the bank where everyone speaks only Spanish. Having been coached in the language, tested on their knowledge, and even having prepared a written script, the two enter the bank and call out threateningly in Spanish “This is a robbery,” and the customers in the bank respond . . .well, exactly as you might imagine frightened people might respond to two men who have declared that they intend to rob the bank and who are pointing guns: they raise up their hands and back away towards the far wall. But Butch forgets his lines, and with the Sundance Kid waiting with frustrating impatience, Butch reaches into this pocket for his script, finds his place and orders everyone to raise up their hands. With annoyance, Sundance calls back: “They’ve already go their hands raised. Skip on down,” he orders.” Butch reads the next lines from the script, “Arriba,” Butch commands, but again, Sundance says “They’ve already got them raised, Skip on down.” Reading again from his script, Butch commands them to back against the wall, but an exasperated Sundance states that they are already against the wall: “Skip on down!” he orders Butch. It is a funny scene in a rather perverse way.
This script they are using is the correct one, but it doesn’t match the action. Words and actions are out of synch, as in the scene in Singing in the Rain when the visuals and the audio go out of synch and the romantic scene between Lena Lamont and Don Lockwood turns to farce. Rather than inspire tears, the film moves the audience to laughter. In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch in his frustration says to Sundance, “Ah, you’re so damn smart, you read it,” and heads behind the counter where the money is kept. It is the only script that will work at present.
The script is always the problem. From our beginnings we learn a whole variety of scripts that our culture(s) have over time developed; we maintain a whole library of scripts that we pull out and recite at what we think is the appropriate occasion, but too often it is the right script but for the wrong play. Or else we don’t have the script for the particular play at all and we have no lines to speak or we speak them inappropriately. At the realization that no one speaks English at the bank, Butch storms out. He has nothing to say, and he understands that whatever he says will not be understood, which might be the same thing, after all. 
And so I return to Zuckerman, as I have so often in my life. He says, “You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with then; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception . . . The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway, It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong.” If we were always right there would be nothing to learn and no reason to move on.
I think what Zuckerman means here (and of course, Zuckerman is not Roth) is that we never have the right script, and neither does anyone else. We are forever speaking lines to a different character in another play, and the same goes for her. Maybe we never understand the script of the other because it is for a play with which we not familiar and certainly one in which we are not presently appearing.  We keep saying we understand, but we are wrong: there is more we should learn. The tragicomedy: “Let’s go.” (They do not move).


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