For a long time, I was desirous of meeting St. Thomas Aquinas. At Combray, I would often recline among the shrinking violets with my dear “Summa Theologica,” and I always found the intellectual company of this saint most delightful. Whilst to my chagrin I was never acquainted with the Dumb Sicilian Ox even in a dream, I did later make an opportune acquaintance that perhaps sufficed, at the Maison de Toad.
On a Wednesday evening in the nadir of what had become a most lugubrious winter, I lost the will to resist the sirensong of drunkenness. Upon having tightly laced the Bean boots my dear mother so forcefully thrust into my arms before I departed to New Haven for the first time, I trotted towards the place whose throb I heard from faraway. Of course, a man such as myself, upon entry to these receptacles of Bacchanalia, has a very low threshold of time spent before wafting into the calm of the smoking area. The gauloises that had supplied me with the perseverance to progress through freshman orgo (for at that time I was still preoccupied with the allure of the natural sciences) had run dry, so I was forced to depend on the charity of smoking strangers.
“Excuse me, monsieur, may I please borrow a cigarette?” I asked a man on my left with as much courtesy as could be expected of me. “Naturally, dear boy,” said the man with a voice that struck me as familiar. Indeed, it was Monsieur Swann, the man whom I had heard, in passing, discuss the erotic thrill of econometrics. “But you must come to my aid. This woman here insists Star Wars VII was a poorly made film. Help me set her right.”
Perhaps, dear reader, you now see my quandary. So desperately did I desire to arrive at the momentary Xanadu of a winter cigarette, and yet I could not go along with Swann’s fantastical defense of such a barbarous filmic event.
“Monsieur Swann,” I tentatively began, “do you not think that our friend is correct? Was Monsieur Abram’s film not merely ‘A New Hope’ done once more? For one saw another Death Star, another droid lost in the desert with crucial information, another melodramatic elderly fatality — whereas Obi Wan was defeated, now it is Han Solo, in the same manner — surely the film’s entire lack of originality was most cumbersome?”
What followed was at last was the revelatory experience for which I had searched: my St. Aquinas in the flesh. As the saint had, for every atheist quandary, a proof; for every doubting Thomas, a way or contrapuntal maneuver, so Swann had a preprepared rebuttal for every cinematic criticism. He argued voraciously in favour of “three dimensionality” to redeem the flaccid Kylo Ren, sung panegyrics of “nostalgia” to bolster the film’s dire want of originality and even dared to praise the acting talent of the starlet in the role of Rey. I cannot fully convey how transfixed I was in observing this study in pathology. As I daintily put forth my point on how there had been in the film yet another exotic cantina scene, yet another daring X-Wing run, yet another surrogate father, all equally bland in re-execution, I saw in his eyes as he defended his cause the rabid glint of fundamentalism.
When one comes across an atrocity in the annals of history, one is sure to find in some measure apologists, and even deniers. So it was with this lacklustre blockbuster, with which fans and admirers had become too entwined to find fault and yet were willing to exert massive creative force in finding merit.
Eventually I turned to Swann’s companion, who had unmistakably paid me a compromising amount of attention during our debate. I sensed that she had suffered under the yoke of a man who did not allow for dissent in discussion, and was eager to pass the time in the company of a like-minded young man. What’s more, she was utterly underprepared for the bitter chill of the wind, and needed either a jacket or a warm interior, but Swann was too riled to pay attention to this critical fact. What was I to do? For he was bearing down on me, and if, in this current state, he suspected me of connivance with his female companion, it would be no surprise if violence manifested itself. Being rather aroused by the thought of skullduggery, so to arts unknown I bent my wits, and conjured a most ingenious scheme.
“Well, Monsieur Swann, perhaps we need another voice in this debate. Luckily for us, I heard that Madame Lupita Nyong’o, the dearest Yale alumna who so gracefully brought to life the film’s superlative character Maz Kanata, has returned to campus for an acting master class and could not resist the allure of Toad’s place tonight. She is inside — perhaps you ought to fetch her?”
Swann’s eyes lit up like the gas lamps of Montmartre, and he shot inside, a pell-mell panther. At last I had found what I came for: the possibility of civilized conversation. “May I ask your name, Madame?” I said.
“Amelie.” How quickly Swann moved; only two days ago, he came upon me, pale as his shirt, knees knocking together, speaking of a certain Odette as if there had never been another woman alive, nor could ever be. This was of no current concern to me, however. After a very brief series of questions in which neither of us were invested, she wrapped her supple, ungloved alabaster hand round the crook of my arm, and we strolled out into the lightest swirling of snowfall.