3 things about Stanley Kramer’s ON THE BEACH

On the Beach [1959]

1. Fred Astaire smoking like a chimney, a cigarette between his fingers as he pours himself a drink, takes a swallow, clamps the cigarette between his lips again.
2. A shocking cut for a Hollywood movie of 1959: Anthony Perkins has just been discussing suicide, there’s a grim, disturbed look on his face and dissonant music on the soundtrack–cut to a closeup of Ava Gardner’s hair swishing past, she’s dancing with Gregory Peck to the sweet, mellow strains of an orchestra.
3. Gregory Peck begins to talk about his family, his wife and two children. Talking about them in the present tense. Ava Gardner stands behind him, listening, and we see the look on her face as she realizes that he’s still unable to come to terms with their deaths, unable to accept the fact that the life he knew is gone forever. Her sad, sad face.

Something about this movie affects me in a visceral way. I had nightmares about it last night, just like I had after I saw it the first time. But the sort of nightmares I’m grateful for after I wake up. For a few moments, in my sleep, I really believed that mankind was doomed to die–that I was really forced to contemplate the end of everything. It was no longer just an abstract, philosophical exercise akin to reading The World Without Us but a reality. Maybe it’s only in a dream that I can still have that experience, can totally suspend my disbelief. It’s so rare in daily life.

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