Thursday, June 24, 2010

"...for sheer brute strength, it's incest all the way" Marathon Man. No, it's still not safe.

"I tell you, the poets are always declaiming on the power of love, but for sheer brute strength, it's incest all the way." Biesenthal, a (fictional) superstar historian in Marathon Man (book and screenplay by William Goldman).

I recently read Marathon Man for a quick escape. (Saw the movie in 1976.) I was startled, blown away, in fact, by the above horrifying yet freaking intelligent insight into Biesenthal--a secondary character, I'd thought, who lords over doctoral students, his peers and the American public (as one of those talking head historians). It's not in the movie.

Bisenthal is not what Marathon Man is about. Nazi dentistry, the shadow of the McCarthy era—those are the two main characters. And then there's Levy, the Dustin Hoffman character, fresh from his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford, who is going to write his dissertation under the great Bisenthal's tutelage (Biesenthal is played by Fritz Weaver in the film).

It's a page-turner, but the above quote, on page 223, almost a throwaway line, stopped me cold. Was Goldman aware of what he'd written? I suspect so and admire him for putting these words on the lips of someone who but for geography ("Biesenthal" is German) would have suffered under Hitler. Similarly I wondered if Goldman approved of Levy's shallow perception of women—he would prefer a pretty waitress to a scholar.

Levy's not a character I like or understand, except for the fact that he has spent his young life reacting—to his father's scholarship, to Senator Eugene McCarthy's denunciation of his father, his father's suicide, to his idolized older brother, to Biesenthal, to a imperious male-centered, 24-hour animus, no anima, culture which is arrogant, hierarchical and mean-spirited to its core.

A male-centered world is not the only world available but it's the only one he's known. Significantly his mother died when he was six.

Whatever Goldman's intentions, he deftly presents a culture where men use women. Here's the full quote from Biesenthal. His daughter just brought him his wallet so he could help the already dentally enhanced Levy. And note, Goldman both describes her as a "Jewish princess." Spooky, eerie, given the number of "Jewish princess[es]" killed in the camps.

"Bright child, senior at Barnard, she'll be Phi Beta barring a complete collapse. She wants to be an archaeologist but then she wanted to go to Bryn Mawr. I stopped that, I'll stop this – she should be more than contented looking after my bones in my dotage, don't you think that's fair? I tell you, the poets are always declaiming on the power of love, but for sheer brute strength, it's incest all the way."

Is Biesenthal a better man than the Mengele-like (Szell) character played by Sir Lawrence Olivier in the movie?

You can attempt to destroy a culture, ethnic group, race, gender en mass as did Hitler, "Szell" and those lunatics, or simply woman-by-woman, princess-by-princess, like Biesenthal. How interesting William Goldman is. More to learn.

See also my blog on The Omen, in which major decision making is in the hands of men. Things don't turn out so well, unless you're rooting for the Antichrist. ["The antifeminist fathers the Antichrist"]

[And for a photo of Olivier in the role, see my blog--"The Craft of the Gum" about my dentist:]

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