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Excerpts from a discussion of
NUTS IN MAY

Leigh is not interested in mocking someone else, but showing us things about ourselves. As he has often insisted, there is no "them" in his work. Everywhere we look, we are meant to see ourselves. His hell is never reserved for other people. That is what makes his films so unsettling. We are supposed to take them personally. If we don't, we're not really paying attention.

Keith and Candice-Marie's dietary and behavioral eccentricities are symptoms of a state of imaginative derangement that, in Leigh's view, runs throughout society. They have become cut off from their own experience by culturally-received ideas and emotions. For this relisher of sensory, physical, and behavioral particularities, there could be no greater heresy than basing your identity and emotions on abstractions. To do so is to lose touch with reality and, in effect, make yourself unreal. Characters like Keith and Candice-Marie have gone insane in a far more insidious and dangerous way than any of Hitchcock's or John Carpenter's protagonists.

The ultimate fictions that enthrall Keith and Candice-Marie are not ideas about the world but about themselves. Their intellectual relationship to nature is evidence of an even more disturbing intellectual relationship to their own lives and experiences (a subject which Leigh will explore further in Abigail's Party and Who's Who). In their resistance to processed food, Keith and Candice-Marie have unconsciously swallowed all manner of processed thinking, canned feeling, and shrink-wrapped selfhood. Their identities are as received, their emotions as dictated by fashion, and their "views" (in both the perceptual and intellectual senses) as second-hand as the opinions in the travel-guides they slavishly follow. In their quest for culturally-certified "naturalness," they have become completely artificial. Leigh wants us to see that if there is even a shade of "naturalness" in his movie, it resides in figures like Honkey and Finger, not Keith and Candice-Marie or the well-trod paths they hike. In this orgy of intellectual recycling and imaginative role-playing, there is nothing real left.

All of Leigh's work explores problems of selfhood and identity, and the major problem with taking your feelings and opinions from outside of yourself, in Leigh's view, is that you lose track of who you really are. Keith thinks he is a paragon of reasonableness, when he is actually an imaginative terrorist. Candice-Marie thinks she is a flower-child devotee of peace and love, even as she unceasingly nags and bullies Keith about not being loving enough.

The way we can detect the falseness of Keith and Candice-Marie's conception of themselves is not only through the contradiction between what they say and do, and in the ironic discrepancy between what they say they see and what Leigh shows us (as on the pig farm), but through the unimaginativeness, inflexibility, and unresponsiveness of their performances. In Leigh's view, when you play a part that is emotionally and intellectually inauthentic, the result will always be a mechanical performance. A false role can never be truly spontaneous, free, or responsive.

In the implicit dramatic metaphor that informs most of Leigh's work, Keith is a bad actor or director who mechanically adheres to a pre-established script and is terrified of any departure from it. That is the significance of his reliance on texts of various sorts for virtually everything he says and does (instructions on putting up his tent, notebooks, maps, tour itineraries and schedules, a numbered guidebook, and the campground regulations he quotes). Keith is unable to go "off-book," to creatively improvise on the margins of a text or allow the least bit of creative independence or departure from the "script." Keith tyrannizes over everyone around him, insisting on adherence to (and punishing departures from) his pre-determined "scripts" for experience. That is the point of a climactic scene late in the film, when Keith and Candice-Marie invite Ray to their campsite to have tea. Keith functions as a bad director who attempts to dictate the most minute details of Ray's and Candice-Marie's blocking (where they should stand for the photograph), line readings (in the song), and feelings about and interpretation of their roles (in the talk about nutrition).

For a filmmaker so clearly committed to the value of expressive individuality and spontaneity, the result of attempting to pre-script and over-direct human interaction is not only expressive boredom but the erasure of fundamental individual differences. While Leigh's cinematic style is an effort to respect individual structures of feeling and points of view, Keith's personal style denies the existence of any point of view other than his own. He cuts everyone and every interaction to fit the Procrustean bed of his own interests, stage-managing all conversations and directing all interactions to conform to his own interests. He is a kind of bad artist who makes life too purposeful, too meaningful, too orderly–and in doing so takes the spontaneity, surprise, and fun out of experience. He takes the play out of play....

–Excerpted from Ray Carney, The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World (London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Text Copyright 1999-2000 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.

This is only the "To Print" page. To go to the regular page of Ray Carney's www.Cassavetes.com on which this text appears, click here, or close this window if you accessed the "To Print" page from the regular page. Once you have brought up the regular page, you may use the menus to reach all of the other pages on the site.