The Mindful Bard – The Trip

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

Film: The Trip (IFC Films 2010)

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon

?The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.?

William Wordsworth, ?Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood?

Intimations of Immortality on a Mid-life Crisis Road Trip

Why does Steve Coogan so often play himself as this actor who clings to the same stupid agenda even though it makes him miserable and he’s always landing on his face? Because It’s hilarious, That’s why.

There’s a great scene in Coffee and Cigarettes in which Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan are having coffee together in a cafĂ©. Alfred tells Steve that he’s discovered that they’re related. Molina is terribly excited about this, and shows Coogan how he’s traced their lineage back to Italy. Coogan is noticeably uncomfortable.

Molina, blissfully unaware of Coogan’s uppity revulsion, thinks their family history would make a great film project and suggests they stay in touch to discuss it further. Steve is politely dismissive, making enough weak excuses for not giving Molina his number that Molina finally gets the picture?just as he gets a call from Spike Jonze.

The ever-ambitious Coogan sits up with a start and immediately starts sucking up to Molina, who suddenly mirrors Coogan’s earlier condescension. As Molina rises from his chair, Coogan obsequiously calls out, ?I’ll pay for the coffee!? To which Molina replies abruptly, ?Yes, you will,? and walks out.

It’s the same kind of character Coogan plays in The Trip, a Chaucerian morality tale showing up the follies and hypocrisies of the modern playboy career actor. The road trip is essentially an assignment for Coogan to write about upscale restaurants. The drive is through the rugged splendour of northern England, with all the fabulous scenes we’ve come to expect?and with running commentary by Coogan and Brydon on the geology, history, and poetry of this beautiful region. This is interspersed with some pretty funny scenes in fancy restaurants; the two men obviously know next to nothing about food, and enjoy aping their favourite actors and pointing out each other’s weaknesses in presentation.

Even more hilarious are the scenes in which the decidedly non-foodie Brydon can’t bring himself to sample this or that culinary delight, simply because It’s unfamiliar.

Humour aside, though, The Trip saliently presents the problems of the artistic personality, offering a choice between two modes of being: obedience to the dictates of one’s art, whatever that means, or obedience to a higher ethics (which involves a loving sense of humility and a decision to not take oneself seriously).

The Trip offers many insights into things that can distract the artist?in this case, an actor?from the downward personal and relational spiral that accompanies excessive self-absorption.

In the quest for well-being Coogan is often tempted to indulge his burgeoning ego by plying it with brief sexual liaisons. Artists are supposed to do that, right? Addictions add to the artist’s mystique, and may even aid creativity, right?

Wrong. This road?at its best egotistical and arrogant and at its worst either cutthroat or self-destructive?is not, contrary to prevailing opinion, an inherent necessity of art. Sadly there isn’t enough evidence that addictions harm the creative process (witness the womanizing Picasso), but there’s also little real evidence that they help it (witness John Coltrane’s post-drug creative output).

Rob Brydon’s attachment to his family and his tenderness for others and reluctance to use them for his own ends is the perfect antithesis to Coogan’s absurd egotism.

The Trip fulfills six of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 3) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 4) it is about attainment of the true self; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; and 6) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.

%d bloggers like this: