there is an uncomfortable sense of comfort to the film Barney’s Version, the Robert Lantos adaptation of the Mordecai Richler novel. There are the familiar devices of death, longing and memory but the ingenious Richler always managed to steer clear of the easy tropes and develop complex narratives that reflected social reality of a given time and place yet somehow, disturbingly, are brought to hare in vivid reflection of our own lives. The characters seem composites of composites; reincarnated figures who are easy to associate with yet something of a mystery.
Though there are no shortage of pundits willing to guillotine Richler by trumping up charges against him and caricaturing him; the truth remains he was an elusive, fugitive writer always at the fringe of an avant-gard without the splash and sizzle of traditional celebrity. In “Barney” at times we seem rubbing against the hard,almost macabre turf of Malcolm Lowry where alcohol drives the script on a downward spiral, but Richler dances away from these flames because Richler is more intelligent than Lowry or at least not as dysfunctionally tormented or as enraged After all, Barney’s world is about love, in all its complexities. This abstract seems to sum up the main lines of Barney Panofsky:
“baruch spinoza said “all happiness or unhappiness solely depends upon the quality of the object to which we are attached by love”. this statement recognizes the independent objective reality of the outer conditions within which we live our lives. compare this with the popular saying: “if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. this statement denies that there is an objective reality that exists independent of our perception of it. according to spinoza, love is the one kind of relationship (“attachment”) that causes happiness. but our love towards an object is not enough, since the objective qualities of the object itself may cause us unhappiness despite or regardless of our love for it. this is the paradox of love according to spinoza: only love can cause happiness, but happiness does not depend solely on our act of loving. at the same time, and in contrast, unhappiness does depend on the act of loving, as it would not arise without taking the risk of love towards an object potentially with the wrong qualities. without love there would be no unhappiness.” ( Hune) read more: http://dialogicalecology.blogspot.com/2011/01/spinoza-and-love.html a
Yet, there are important similarities between Lowry’s work and Barney’s version. Barney is part of a pursuit of altered states and alternative realities limited to specific contexts: It suggests his desire for this liberation is by no means unequivocal – that it is balanced by an equally powerful need for the stability and security of mundane existence. Marriage and children are important. He is enthralled by the liminal experience of the bohemian poet, but is also afraid of it: He likes to visit alternative worlds, but, unlike his friend Moscovitch, he wouldn’t want to live there.
It seems, then, the role of alcohol for Barney, and within the larger Jewish community is that drinking plays a two sided role in the context of ritual: the altered states of consciousness induced by alcohol allow Barney to explore desired but potentially dangerous alternative realities, while the social acceptable meanings of drinking – the rules of convivial sociability invariably associated with the consumption of alcohol – provide a reassuring counterbalance.The chemical, depressant and symbolic properties of alcohol allow Barney to construct an alternative reality in which the potentially disturbing or frightening aspects of the transition are minimised, and the positive, celebratory aspects unfortunately have lost their appeal to enhance.
Also for Barney, Choice of beverage is also a significant indicator of social status.Preference for high-status scotch whiskey is symbolic as an expression of aspirations, rather than a reflection of actual position in the social hierarchy.Though economically secure, his position of lower middle class origins reflects the aspiration linked to social marginality and the unique position of first generation child. There, Barney’s consumption rituals seem oriented to the construct a utopic order that is equally about,an enactment not only what Barney thinks he is but also what he should have been or may yet be.
Interestingly, In societies with a more complex relationship with alcohol,such as Judaism where drinking is a moral issue- Barney’s drinking-places are enclosed, insular, even with an edge the private and secretive : an environment that could be considered concealed and contained. For the Jew, as in some other cultures,alcohol cannot be regarded as purely a recreational substance; it has other meanings which allow its use in the ritualisation of a wider range of significant transitions.
…There’s no real indication of the bleak vision and tone that permeates the film. It’s actually an honest look at a flawed human being making very human mistakes, often with tragic and fatal consequences. Barney is actually a miserable, often self-loathing man full of residual anger and depression. It’s not all a barrel of laughs. Bar
Barney’s Version is an unflinching portrayal of a man in a perpetual state of decline. Barney is a man who never seemed to actually be “on top” at any point in his life. When the audience first meets him, he’s a mixture of alcohol-fueled resentment and wicked one-liners; a sad old man with one too many tragedies in his life (many of which were self-inflicted).
Right from the opening sequence the viewer is at the mercy of Barney’s fragmented memory. The film opens with Barney as a lonely 65-year-old trying to reconnect with the love of his life. As disjointed memories of his younger days both spent traveling Europe and living his later life in Montreal invade his thoughts, the viewer is left wondering how exactly Barney became Barney. His self-destructive behaviour makes for a compelling character study. Barney’s Version truly is a grown up film tackling adult issues.