Henry Miller’s Odyssey
This brilliant documentary reveals to us an unusually lucid and sensitive person.
There are great conversationalists in the world and then there is Henry Miller. Unmasked as always in his formidable courage, Miller talks about his life in this 1969 documentary called The Henry Miller Odyssey, directed by Robert Snyder.
The narrative talent of the protagonist is such that, with his organic, obscure and sparkling associations, it appears as if he directed the documentary himself and not Snyder. A New Yorker to the bones, Miller has no qualms about showing his madness or the mental problems of his own family, and which he uses as an analogy for a profound critique of Western irrationality and hypocrisy. He also narrates the influence of the streets of Brooklyn, where “he met dozens of criminals that were always his friends and his heroes;” his job at Western Union, in which, to identify with them, he spent all his money in helping lying and thieving youths. And then he tells of his life as a passionate and disciplined author who fed off of misery and constant humiliation to become the writer he did.
The film’s high points include a reading of a long passage from his book Black Spring, directly related to the story of his sister (“who was way too sensitive for this world”); his intellectual and physical love affair with Anaïs Nin, and some meditations on the meaning of life, among which is a beautiful letter written by hand to himself and dated September 17, 1918:
What are we here for if not to enjoy life eternal, solve what problems we can, give light, peace and joy to our fellow man, and leave this dear fucked-up planet a little healthier than when we were born.
The documentary ends with one of his most sincere and powerful reflections on the mystery of the universe:
No matter what you touch and you wish to know about, you end up in a sea of mystery. You see there’s no beginning or end, you can go back as far as you want, forward as far as you want, but you never got to it, it’s like the essence, it’s that right, it remains. This is the greatest damn thing about the universe. That we can know so much, recognize so much, dissect, do everything, and we can’t grasp it. And it’s meant to be that way, do y’know. And there’s where our reverence should come in. Before everything, the littlest thing as well as the greatest. The tiniest, the horseshit, as well as the angels, do y’know what I mean. It’s all mystery. All impenetrable, as it were, right?
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