"Evening" Movie Review

Hooking Up

by Earl Gosnell
It's somewhat difficult beginning this movie review without risk of misleading my reader. It's like this: Suppose some terrorists had planted mines in a popular park in your town and the police discovered the conspiracy. They cordon off the area and bring in the bomb squad. The bomb squad unveils a high tech robot which they send into the park.

We watch this robot on TV whirring away, stopping to test the ground, taking a detour around certain areas, and by and large just meandering through the park. Eventually it comes to the top of an anthill in the middle of the park where it digs up an unexploded firecracker left by some boys on the Fourth of July. It reaches out and retracts its claws and captures it.

Then comes another meandering path back to the parking lot, where it drops the firecracker into a special container where: "phutt," it is harmlessly set off. The police chief then gives an interview saying they've successfully defused the firecracker which they thought posed a danger to the public. Some reporter then asks him why did the robot ignore the weightier matter of the mines still there in the park. The chief replies that in fact the robot took careful consideration of them to avoid being blown up. "Yeah," the reporter says, "but they're still there." The chief replies, "Tomorrow will be another day," and so ends the interview.

You are given the job of writing it up for the morning paper. How do you start?

hooked up with angel Evening starts with a scene on a bay. There is a college-age girl lying in a boat being watched by an old woman on a hill. Next we see the old woman waking from a dream to ask, "Where's Harris?" The woman's daughters attending her have a question themselves, "Who's Harris?" This woman Ann, lying on her deathbed, is having some reminiscence of her earlier life—Ann in the boat—which, as we'll soon discover, involves a man named Harris whom she'd hooked up with. Now, you know just from this beginning that the woman with the perspective of years is going to examine her life and actions back then. And especially since it will involve a boy, it should be just the kind of a movie, a father, say, will want to see with his daughter before sending her off to college, in order to give her some tips on what to expect and how to behave. An angel fills in for the night nurse at times to give an even more cosmic perspective.

The problem, of course, in showing such a movie is the audience will hold different expectations; we are not a homogeneous society any more. Fact is, the topics touched on in the plot will be a veritable mine field in the culture war. Not every parent, not every young person, will hold the same views. The movie does a remrkable job of avoiding any inflamatory material while dealing with the nonissue of "hooking up."

Some quarters see "hooking up" as a problem for young people. Surveys show that "hooking up" is the one boy-girl interaction that is well understood on campus, so some conclude it to be the dominant cultural mode of boy-girl relations, and this worries some parents. The way it works is nowadays young men and women are thrown together in a lot of mixed activities. Their schedules are also busy, so instead of having to date and go out for a little fun, they just get together for some spontaneous sexual recreation—anything from kissing to making love—without any commitment or even definition of what their relationship is. The boys are not requred to show the girls as much respect as when they dated them. And who knows what will come of it? Maybe 30% of college women have hooked up, maybe once, twice, three times. Not a problem? Or is it? Who cares? Maybe enough people to see the movie if they are not distracted by a ton of other issues.

"Harris," the mother answers, "was my first mistake." She compares it to a first kiss, something one never forgets. As for Harris, he was "mine and buddy's old boyfriend. Buddy and I killed Harris." Wow! This is enough of a revelation to worry her daughters who had never heard of Harris. The night nurse assures them that it might not even be real, just a dream or a delusion. And so our curiosity is piqued.

The movie does a good job of switching between present death-bed and past life. Most of that past takes place in the family mansion of Ann's best friend Lila at whose wedding she was the maid of honor in Newport, Vermont. At night there are crickets in the background, in the day birds chirping, and in Newport seagulls. It's relatively easy to follow the transitions.

Lila is getting married at 24 to (tall) Carl, but she is one conflicted broad as her love seems to be for Harris with whom she'd shared her first kiss as her younger brother Buddy, Ann's college friend, is happy to point out. Harris is the son of the groundskeeper, who went to medical school, was wounded in Korea—it's a 50s era film—and returned to his small town Sheldon Falls, Mass. to be a doctor. In other words, this guy Ann hooks up with is a true blue American role model, not the kind of drunken louse worried parents picture hooking up with their daughters at school. True, there was alcohol involved (scotch) when Lila at fifteen ("I had a thing for older men") lured Harris to the beach to hook up, but the custom itself of hooking up is in no way alcohol dependent, as the movie shows.

One of the objections leveled at hooking up is that men hold too much power as they aren't opening themselves to rejection as they do when they have to actually ask a girl out on a date. We can put that issue to rest after Harris points out that he's opening himself to getting slapped by trying to kiss a girl whom he has no business kissing. One thing he does need, though, is to come up with a line which he does, showing more originality than Buddy who can't seem to write his own novel without having it start like Tale of Two Cities, follow the plot of The Great Gatsby, end like something from Emmerson, and rise to the level of Puck's comment in "Midsummer's Night Dream": "What fools these mortals be." The guy, though, who hooks up with a girl gets credit for initiative and originality.

For perspective, we are given two foils in the movie: Buddy who is a tragic character from the getgo and Ann's second daughter Nina. Buddy's character flaw is he's too clingy which is his undoing, and Nina's is that she can't get committed to anything. Her sister Constance (Connie) points out that she's had four different careers (if we include go-go dancing) and umpteen different boyfriends including the latest it looks like she's ready to dump. "You won't let anything get its hooks into you," she tells her. There is the use of the word hook which we don't hear in every movie, or much at all in any of them. It was slipped in here as a clue to the subject.

It's not my intention to tell anyone how to believe or live his life, but you may view the movie yourself and draw your own conclusions. A person unable to be hooked by anything is afloat, "I am a rock,/ I am an island," and we (or at least I) don't want that. A person who is too clingy, on the other hand, is asking for trouble. Contrasted with these two is the one who hooks up, is able to connect to something, someone, and then, perhaps, goes on his way, is not clingy if it doesn't work out. Look, it's something to think about.

Now, the major pitfalls of controversy a movie like this could have fallen into and how it avoided them.

Race. In the fifties society was still somewhat segregated, so we are not surprised that all the wedding guests of the white bride and white groom are white. No big deal. In fact, Newport seemed so provincial ("Where did you get your shoes?") that we are relieved to see the race issue moved to a big city (New York) in a pleasant reminiscence by Ann of her working life. She was a singer. Her pianist was not white. The scene is their rehearsal, and in all its brevity it shows the black man to understand business, kids, and life ... all three. So while white folks have to work through all these issues, the black folks already understand it pretty good, or at least they do as far as this movie is concerned. You're a conservative and think Negroes should stay in their place? No problem; all they had was one token Negro on the piano. What's wrong with that? You're liberal and believe in affirmative action? No problem, the workplace was fifty-fifty, one white and one black, what's wrong with that?

Women's issues. Should a woman have every opportunity to work and succeed outside her home? Well, her business did a pretty good job of providing childcare, the pianist—who understands kids—sitting little Connie on his lap while he and her mom rehearsed. Is a woman's place in the home? We see Ann's second husband leaving her with both kids while he went and did his thing. What does the mom do? She sings to them. There was some use for her talent. But shouldn't a woman be free to use it to the maximum? Why yes, there was the concert by the famous female performer, but as Ann explains, "Everybody can't be famous."

Pregnancy. What is it, a fetus or a baby? When Nina tells her sister Connie that she's pregnant, she says, "Something's got its hooks in me?" What was it? It was a something. The viewer knows what that something is. The movie writer felt no need to fill anybody in. Was the norm displayed as freedom of choice? Nina said she was worried that if she had it, she'd regret it for the rest of her life, and if she didn't have it she'd regret it for the rest of her life. Some choice, eh? Before Roe v. Wade in 1973, a woman's choice in the matter was but a Hobson's choice. In our day there is more choice, but not the sort that's the best thing since sliced bread. It's still a rough choice. But was it even accurate to think Nina had a choice in the 50s? Well, if her boyfriend Luke's band was progressing from dumps to dives, then the abortion option is not far behind, going from back alley to clinic. What about right-to-life? Well, the advice given her was that given the circumstance of her mother dying, it would be good to have more life now, but this was more along the preference of life in the circumstance rather than any right to life. This particular movie is pretty noncommital either way.

Homosexuality. Here it would be a good idea to look at how one other movie treated the subject: Taladega Nights. In it we see Billy Bobby overcome his several fears. He overcomes his fear of driving fast, he overcomes his xenophobia, and he overcomes his homophobia, this last when he kisses the queer French driver. But he himself is not queer, because he won't do it a second time. Likewise, the one scene in Evening in which we might construe some homo activity, we've got to hold back on this assessment because there wasn't enough of it, and there was other explanation: "Everybody loved Harris." That didn't stop the people from issuing reassurances that they were okay with men loving men, an uncharacteristic tolerance in the 50s. The people who want to see society tolerant of homosexuality will find no fault in this movie. The people who would rather there not be any homosexuality will not find it in this movie. It gets a pass.

Finally, we have to deal with the issue of:

Sex before marriage which can't be avoided because sometimes it is part of hooking up. I'm thinking of my stint on a Christian mercy ship. Our leaders knew it was natural for boy-girl friendships to develop so we were allowed to have each other over to our cabins, but the rule was the door stays open. I don't think that rule was followed in "Evening." Where did that couple go? I think that if I were a doctor, I'd have an added reason for leaving the door open, so I might be able to hear someone call, "Is there a doctor on the ship?" So many distractions. Also, a woman's intuition might be swamped by sexual passion. What it comes down to is the movie shows sex and alcohol to be a disastrous combination, but not in the way we are used to thinking. If a father wants to warn his daughter about it, there is material in this movie to let him do so, but it is such an odd set of circumstances, that someone who isn't used to seeing potential for disaster in premarital sex and drunkenness, is not likely to pick up any warning from this plot.

One of the objections to hooking up is that it has displaced the normal courtship routes of dating and such. The movie addresses this when it has Ann marrying the best man Ralph. Are all our own methods for picking a mate all that infallible? Should Lila have been so confidently trying to pair up people at her wedding? Ralph as a husband didn't last long until he was discarded like a piece of chewing gum on the sidewalk. Whatever the limitations hooking up places on one, it doesn't necessarily stop one from developing romances along other channels. We see at the wedding Ann and Ralph giving each other the eye. Then we see him inviting her to come join the group at "the plunge." There he tells her he wants her eyes on him. They were flirting, all during the period in which Ann and Harris had been hooking up.

Further clues can be got from Connie. Nina had been snide with her older sister who had the job, the career, the children, the husband—all the trappings of fulfillment. Connie seemed pretty happy, but to help Nina relate to her she said sometimes she wishes she were a surfer chick with seven stupid boyfriends. Let's think this through a moment. A surfer chick and seven stupid boyfriends. Well, if they are stupid, all she needs do is convince each one she can only see him one day a week. There are seven days in a week. These are stupid guys. No problem.

How much of a problem can it be for those 30% of college women who hooked up with some guy two or three times during their college career? Are college guys that much smarter than surfers? Give me a break.

The problem addressed with hooking up is that it has displaced dating and such. People don't know dating but they do know hooking up. Well, there should be movies, then, that promote dating. But there are, zillions of them. And if you don't go to the movies then you can read my book on Biblical Courtship Basics or get information elsewhere.

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One important element of hooking up is "the talk." Since nobody knows where they stand with each other, they have to have one. Lila had one with Harris though it humiliated her, and Harris had one with Ann though it came late. It's part of the game.

The movie ends by downplaying all the concern over Harris. "We did what we needed to do. Harris was a boy that your mom dated a long time ago. He worked with the poor, married a nurse in his home town, became an old man. Harris was just a boy. Your mom had her whole life, she had you, she sang, she raised two girls. You can't know everything; there's a great deal you won't know. We are mysterious creatures. At the end so much turns out not to matter."

It seems to me that of the two women who'd hooked up with Harris, the one who limited it to kissing was less tied to him through her life than the one who made love to him, less bonded as it were, though she may have been the one with the stronger feelings at the time. My impression from the movie is hooking up is no big deal especially if they don't have sex.


Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403

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Copyright 2007 Earl S. Gosnell III

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