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Giving Nine a Ten

Maybe it’s because I’m Italian.  Maybe it’s because I saw 8 1/2 in college and some other Fellini movies, or Scenes from a Marriage by Bergman. Or loved All That Jazz about Bob Fosse. (“It’s Showtime!”) Maybe it’s because I miss Rome.  Not sure why, but I liked Nine.

And want to see it again.

The previews were intriguing and the hype on Oprah! was compelling. All those pretty stars in sexy outfits. Fergie. Nicole. Kate. Penelope. Marion. Sophia. And Dame Judith Dench. All that cleavage.  That’s when I realized that this was a man’s movie, not a chick flick.  A guy’s movie without action and guns and killing and sports and political intrigue.  What?

The audience is drawn into the head of a movie maker, Guido Contini (played by an unrecognizable Daniel Day-Lewis) as he hallucinates, dreams, pretends, lies, and places blame. The musical numbers are way over the top – because they come from his head, not reality. The way we all have the worst boss in the world, the most stubborn husband/wife, the meanest brother, the stupidest priest, the most forgiving dead mother…

And what a dead mother. Sophia Loren. What better icon can there be of Italy, home of the Madonna/Whore dichotomy that makes it O.K. for wives to be neglected and mistresses to be abused. Her part is perfection.

In turn, the failing Guido looks to the women in his life to inspire and rescue him. The triumph of the movie is that they all fail him. The affair turns into despair, the prostitute from his childhood grows up to be crude and sleazy, the seduction of the American fails to intrigue him, the movie star refuses to play the part of a rescuer, and the wife refuses to play the part of a fool. Marion Cotillard’s song excusing his behavior, “My husband makes movies…” takes the kind of dopey lyrics and turns them into the lament of every woman who believes the dopey lies of unfaithful husbands. The dopey excuses that we tell ourselves.

As Guido spins toward meltdown, he calls upon his mother and she says the truest line in the movie – “You have to figure it out for yourself.”

The scriptures say it another way – “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

I thought for years that it seemed to be saying that we could save ourselves. That salvation was something we accomplished. Guido fakes an 8×10 glossy photo autograph and kiss for the Cardinal who loves his movies, yet bans them. The perfect metaphor for taking salvation into our own hands.

It took a long time for me to figure out that if we could save ourselves, we wouldn’t need to be saved in the first place.

Now I know salvation to be personal, individual, humbling, and my only hope.

Fame, sex, money, beauty, love; Guido destroys those muses one by one with the kiss/slap precision of a man racing away from the paparazzi in a convertible.  He fails.  And no chirping forest animals come skipping to the rescue. Snow White is dead. There is no prince.

Like I said, it’s a guy movie. A complete fantasy that puts into sharp perspective the fact that real life is fantastically incomplete.

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