Opening Dialogue from Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan

What better way to kick off Conference week than with some of the greatest opening […]

David Zahl / 3.23.09

What better way to kick off Conference week than with some of the greatest opening lines in film history?! Metropolitan is Whit Stillman’s first film (and many think his best – it’s my third favorite), and even from its opening scene, it is clear that a remarkably fresh voice had arrived on the American cinema scene, one with a very distinct comedic sensibility. There really is no other movie like it, at least if you don’t count Stillman’s other two films, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco. Taken as a trilogy, I consider them the finest “comedies of manners” ever made. The script received a surprise Oscar nomination back in 1990 and finally came out on Criterion Collection DVD a couple years ago.

Sally Fowler’s afterparty is in progress. In the foreground CHARLIE BLACK is seen in profile close-up talking to some person or persons o.s.; as the frame widens we see that his primary audience is the highly attractive CYNTHIA MCLEAN, although the group as a whole listens too.

CHARLIE: Of course there’s a God. We all basically know there is.

CYNTHIA: I know no such thing.

CHARLIE: Of course you do. When you think to yourself – and most of our waking life is taken up thinking to ourselves – you must have that feeling that your thoughts aren’t entirely wasted, that in some sense they are being heard. Rationally, they aren’t; you’re entirely alone. Even the people to whom we are closest can have no idea of what is going on in our minds. But we aren’t devastated by loneliness because, at a hardly conscious level, we don’t accept that we’re entirely alone. I think this sensation of being silently listened to with total comprehension – something you never find in real life – represents our innate belief in a supreme being, some all-comprehending intelligence.

CYNTHIA: That seems awfully subjective.

CHARLIE: Of course it is. That’s just my point. We all subjectively know God exists. Then, usually in adolescence, we decide that that’s silly. Still later –

[Cuts away to a quick scene of two young ladies talking about a young man, and then rejoins the conversation.]

CYNTHIA: I don’t see what that has to do with proving God exists.

CHARLIE: What is shows is that a kind of belief is innate in all of us. At some point most of us lose that, after which it can only be regained by a conscious act of faith.

CYNTHIA: And you’ve experienced that?

CHARLIE: No, I haven’t… I hope to someday.

[The scene in question begins at 3min 25sec.]

I mean, who starts a movie like that?! Especially a comedy… But it goes on from there and the humor grows. I promise if you stick with it and listen/watch carefully, you’ll see that there is a LOT more going on than a bunch of preppies talking in a room. Stillman is a true hero.