In a 1966 film from the creator of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, these two words are discovered haphazardly etched on to the bottom of a trophy. Their meaning, both in and out of the film is a bit cloudy.
Literally, they translate to “faithful eternal”. Is that an offer? A warning? A philosophy?
Since the tale that brings them to light is all about the very nature of identity, perhaps they are in fact instructions on how to live. If we are ourselves faithfully and eternally, we will get the most life can truly offer us.
Should we decide to deviate, though…look out.
SECONDS chooses not to hold our hand, and instead drop us straight into the fray. We meet a man named Arthur, whose life is a success…yet wholly unfulfilling. As he drifts through his life, he is approached by a long lost contact about a chance for renewal.
Arthur accepts the offer with little hesitation.
After making his way to a covert operation housed inside a meat-packing facility, Arthur is offered the chance at taking on a new identity…a new body…a new life. He accepts, almost all too readily, and is grafted into the physical form of a much younger man (Rock Hudson).
Now going under the name “Tony”, our hero is transplanted into a new seaside community. It’s there that he is outfitted with a porter to help him adjust, finds himself a new vocation as a painter, and is surrounded by other “reborns”. One of them – a woman named Nora (Salome Jens) even takes a shining to him.
However, despite the new lease on life, our hero fails to find contention…and spiritually rejects the opportunity he has been handed.
The wild thing about a story like SECONDS, is the way it challenges the notion of just what one should aspire to in life. Is the goal to have a well-paying job, a splendid house, a partner, child, and fine car in the garage? If so, our hero has met his goals. What if the goal is to be talented creatively, to keep an appealing physique, to attract beautiful members of the opposite sex, and live free of responsibility? Again, our hero meets his goals.
It all reminds me of what my friend Kurt Halfyard once said was at the root of every Mike Leigh movie: That they exist to ask the characters and the audience are you happy?
If our hero cannot be content in suburban bliss, and likewise in a pseudo commune with weekly hedonistic rituals that are literally centred around wine, women, and song…then when can he be content? And while we might like to lean back and judge, mustn’t we too look ourselves in the mirror and ask when we can be content.
After all, who hasn’t wondered what they’d do if they won a million dollars, if they could get invited to the best parties, if they had a trimmer this, or a bigger that? But what then? Might we be wandering in a fog like our hero does when he first comes out of surgery? Might everything look twisted and out-of sorts, as it does when this film begins?
How can we best tailor our lives, and our very physical forms, to make us happiest?
What’s trippiest about SECONDS is the way no reality seems to be quite right.
As we meet Arthur in the beginning of the film, we follow him through a series of strange angles, and heightened POV’s. Every glance in his direction seems suspicious, every doorway he passes through is threatening. It’s as if we are meant to feel the menace of something as simple as a trip home from a business trip. But “home” doesn’t even feel right. It’s too sterile…too cold. Arthur and his wife seem to be avoiding a secret.
No matter what your definition of “domestic bliss” is, this ain’t it. It’s as if Frankenheimer wants to shoot his film through the lens of discontent; in both its active and passive forms.
Later of course, we get out to the retreat, and things seem to begin simply enough. There’s a sweet encounter on the beach, an innocent reading of tea leaves, all shot with warm serenity. But then we start stripping naked and crushing grapes…and it all takes a turn.
Both the wine ritual and the house party that soon follows feel like sensory overload.
It’s as if the film is telling us “You think you want these things, but you really don’t”. How would we keep people interested in what we have to say at the swank party? Would we really jump into the wine vat with the naked dionysian nymphs? It’s all like the line that we hear in movies now and then from the bombshell with the killer bod: “Honey, you wouldn’t know what to do with me if you got me”
Is that the point of SECONDS? That even in a world where a second helping is possible, it still won’t taste right…still won’t sate our hunger?
Maybe the whole point of it all is that it’s just not possible to be someone else; physically or emotionally. While the plot devices of SECONDS may be science fiction, the reality is that so many of us try to slip into some other persona all the time. We lose weight, we change our hair, we nip, we tuck, we wear better clothes, and run in different circles…but deep down we are who we are. Every experience we endure leaves a thumbprint on us – like a sculptor working a piece of clay.
Any attempts to wipe away those thumbprints, to smooth them over and create something better, newer, and more appealing…perhaps that only makes matters worse.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for January so far…
Erin watched LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD
Simoa watched ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
Keisha watched WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
Coog watched MEAN STREETS
Wendell watched THX-1138
Anna watched CLUELESS
Andy watched L’AVVENTURA
Myerla watched 8 1/2
Mette watched SISSI
Paskalis watched CHICAGO
Kristina watched THE LADYKILLERS (1955)
Sean watched THE SWEET HEREAFTER
Katie Hogan watched THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO