Next year will be more difficult than this year. Governments will continue to cheat, lie and destroy. Fascism will continue to rise. Police will continue to murder blacks. All the wrong people will continue to win. Idiocies will fester and strengthen their hold on critical discourse. Journalism will continue its decline, and the same old film critics will continue their spiral into utterly self-parodic and un(der)paid irrelevance. Fiscal crises will deepen, our climate crisis will plummet evermore. Non-white people will continue to drown and be bombed. The social roots of terrorism and the political mechanisms with which it is dealt will continue to defy all sense. Living standards will worsen, wages and labour conditions will diminish even further. Standards in healthcare will decrease, it will become easier to imagine an apocalypse (and the films doing so will be more bland and less imaginative than ever). Transport will become more expensive and less reliable. It will be more difficult to find time for loved ones. Anxiety and depression levels will rise. Defeat will creep closer. We will continue to lose.
The best film I watched for the first time in 2016 was John Carpenter's Starman, which was first released in 1984. I saw it at the BFI Southbank a few nights after catching The Godfather, for the nth time, at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. During the latter I politely asked a fellow patron if he could stop talking, which resulted in my life being threatened after the screening, as the credits rolled and potential witnesses to the unfolding aggression filed out. An incident whose psychological and emotional impacts are, for both me and the person I was with, yet to be properly unravelled. If indeed they need to be.
Starman was a tonic: a film in which an alien (Jeff Bridges) visits Earth and, in order to get from his landing point in Wisconsin to his departure point in Arizona, takes the form of a widow's late husband. The widow, Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), plots to escape his clutches until she witnesses him give life back to a dead deer, tied onto the front of a hunter's truck, in a scene of such profoundly moving beauty that I felt simultaneously defeated and energised by it for the remainder of the film. The alien's unthinking kindness, to revive the creature, is prompted by Jenny's definition of love: "It's when you care more for someone else than you do for yourself. But it's more than that. It's when someone is... a part of you."
I share, here, Jack Nitzsche's climactic musical composition for the film, which combined with everything else (Bridges' and Allen's performances, the production design, Carpenter's direction, the reassuring but increasingly rare sense that I was being totally walloped by immense artistry), sent me immediately into the bathroom, struggling to breathe through a tide of tears. And, soon after, onto the Southbank itself: under November skies, looking downriver with the woman I love more than anything else on this strange and ludicrous planet, the person who makes it all okay, all worth the effort. I stood there totally gut-wrenched at what we'd just watched and discovered together. Gut-wrenched by its timing, its message, at how beautiful our rotten world can be and the speed and depth with which these transcendent episodes scar us.
Starman says, "Now. Tell me again how to say goodbye." To which Jenny responds, "Kiss me. And tell me you love me." He does. He calls her Jennyhayden. One word. One world. Then turns and leaves it.
This is all there is. All we have left.