Finder and Maker Reversed in The Moviegoer
Walker Percy's novel The Moviegoer chronicles a week in the life of stockbroker Binx Bolling, and his eventual marriage with his step-cousin Kate Cutrer. More than that, it sketches Binx's peculiar philosophy, and Kate's equally strange orientation, and their eventual transposition. Binx begins as an enjoyer of reality, a searcher, or finder of relief from tedium, and Kate as a frantic searcher who becomes a maker of crises to relieve her post-modern ennui. But by the end of the novel, their beginning positions are almost reversed, muddled together to form a more healthy relationship.
Both Binx and Kate are self-aware characters in a world of actors, the only ones to realize the inherent falseness, the cliches, in all things. The very characters sound like movie stars' pseudonyms: Binx Bolling, Lyle Lovell, Walter Wade, with their assonance sound all too much like Robert Redford, James Earl Jones, the too-memorable monikers of film stars. Aunt Emily's manservant Mercer is "threading his way between servility and presumption" (p. 17), now one way then the other, with a dignified appearance but "behind the mustache, his face... is not at all devoted but is as sulky as a Pullman porter's." (ibid.) Even Mercer's exaggerated breathing while serving dishes (pp. 156-157) is the act of a stereotypical servant made ridiculous. Binx's biological mother displays "a fondness carefully guarded against the personal, the heartfelt, a fondness deliberately rendered trite." (p. 139) The radio program "I Believe" (p. 95) is a collection of hoary platitudes, and Binx's "pleasant tingling sensation in the groin" afterwards (p. 96) reveals it as nothing but moral masturbation. Binx's Theosophist aunts make all the world into thespians: through reincarnation, the soul is like an actor playing many parts. Even Binx's father is said to have died at Crete, "in the wine dark sea" (p. 20) -- a cliche as old as Homer.
Where Binx and Kate differ is in their responses to this world. Binx is content to glide through life: he "managed to go to college four years without acquiring a single honor" (p. 31) and his aunt Emily tries to summarize his behavior, saying that "one finding oneself in one of life's critical situations need not after all respond in one of the traditional ways. No. One may simply default. Pass. Do as one pleases, shrug, turn on one's heel and leave. Exit." (p. 193) This diagnosis is not strictly true -- after all, Binx spends some time making another "moviegoer" (p. 120), his crippled cousin Lonnie, happy (pp. 142-6). But he does pass through life as a "selfish" observer, and his family makes it easy for him -- as an eight-year-old, he is told to "act like a soldier" (p. 2) (obey orders unquestioningly and without emotion?), and when family troubles with Kate break out he is instructed to "show up, knowing nothing, come looking for her and fetch her down to dinner" (p. 152). His is an act of...