I was thinking today about Hal Hartley...about how the characters in his films speak in such a stylized manner, so clever, as if they’ve always known each other, from long centuries of play and suffering. You know, at the time I presumed it was all just an affectation, a device of some kind. It annoyed me, that kind of self-conscious intelligence, wordplay with unreal characters, as if we all had nothing better to do than to take a wander through someone’s clever little mind and laugh at their out-jokes and puzzle over their in-jokes. And yet, I love his films, almost without knowing why. I was thinking of the end of Amateur, where the guy gets shot in front of the convent. I remember she holds him in her lap at the end, like the Pieta, and the police ask her “Do you know this man?” and she looks up with indescribable eyes – the eyes of someone who cannot be threatened because they have already lost everything they can lose – and says “Yes. I know this man.” Film ends.
I never understood exactly why she said that – or rather, I never understood why it was important. All these crazy things have happened throughout the film – he is an amnesiac whose unremembered life was spent being a hit man – and because he’s the hero, the protagonist, we feel that we know him, that we trust him, no matter what secrets come to light about his past. “I know this man.” She knows him, as we know him – no matter what he’s done, she knows, as we know, that he is a good man, that he is worthy of trust. How do we know this? I don’t know.
“I know this man.” If we leave behind us no one who truly knows us, trusts enough to say that; no one who would cradle our dead body, beyond fear, against the righteous killers; no one who would say “I know him,” “I know her,” then we really are just a ghost, a transient doomed to return again to this realm in the search for honest arms and a true heart. There would be no memory of us as we were, only an image, a character, a story – not a person.
We have to admit that we know each other.