The Last Picture Show, by Albert W. Vogt III

Number ninety-five on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 100 Greatest American Films of All Time list is The Last Picture Show (1971).  It is about sex.  At times, it rides the line of being pornographic, though never going so far as showing anything other than bare butts and chests.  For this reason, I did not turn it off, though I could not figure out a point to any of it.  Practically all the characters in the film, young and old, only think about intercourse.  The joke would be that given how little there is to do in the town, this is to be expected.  Such sentiments provide a subtext, and it is crude and ridiculous.  Between the material and the lack of a plot, I was sorely tempted to give up.  At the same time, it also provides a useful argument for why these kinds of adult activities should be saved for two people who have properly discerned before God that marriage is right for them, and have wedded.  Please note that this is not a reason to watch this movie.  It should not be seen by anyone, ever, for all time.  Instead, you can read this review and then forget that it exists . . . the film, that is, not The Legionnaire.  Please remember to subscribe.

There is not much to do in the dying town of Anarene, Texas, in the 1950s, the time and place for The Last Picture Show. This is an ongoing problem for high school seniors Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms).  There is Sam the Lion’s (Ben Johnson) pool hall with its two tables, the movie theater, and Genevieve’s (Eileen Brennan) café.  And that is it.  When they get tired of billiards, they go to the cinema.  Instead of paying attention to the ancient motion pictures they screen, Duane and Sonny bring their dates there to make out.  Though Sonny has his own girl, he clearly has eyes for Duane’s companion, Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd).  Because she is apparently taken, Sonny concerns himself with trying to get into the pants of the person he has been steady with for the past year, as an anniversary gift to boot.  She refuses him and we do not hear from her for the rest of the film.  No matter.  To fill his urges, he turns to the forty-something wife of his high school basketball coach, Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman).  His coach asks Sonny one day to take her to a doctor’s appointment.  There is a certain longing in her for companionship that turns into a year long affair.  Though they attempt to keep it hushed up, everyone in town somehow finds out about it and does not seem to care.  Wonderful.  Meanwhile, Duane’s relationship with Jacy because to fade.  It starts with Jacy’s mother, Lois Farrow (Ellen Burstyn).  She is married to the wealthiest man in town, but has an ongoing and unconcealed adulterous relationship with a local oil rig worker, Abilene (Clu Gulager).  It is part of her quest to break up the monotony of the town by remaining titillated.  She imparts this advice to Jacy after her daughter defends Duane as a potential suitor, doubling down on the horribleness by telling the young woman to get birth control and fool around.  I guess it is something that Jacy responds by saying it is a sin, but it does not stop her from taking the other half of her mother’s input to heart.  At a Christmas party, she decides to leave to go to another soiree with a different boy.  She does this knowing that where she is going will involve communal skinny dipping, and there turns out to be a young boy swimming along with everyone else.  I wish I was making this part up.  The only thing she does not do there is have sex, but this is only because the guy she wants to sleep with says that he will not do it with her because she is still a virgin.  So, it is back to Duane for Jacy, though their first encounter goes awry when he cannot perform . . . for some reason.  It does not matter, but I do not understand the point because a few scenes later it happens anyway.  Of note, though, with the first attempt is the number of their classmates waiting outside of the motel room they rented for the deed in order to hear what it is like.  I wish this is the only scene where a group of people stand by while two people engage in sexual activity.  Though Jacy has got what she thought she needed, and breaks up with Duane, the guy from the party ends up marrying someone else. Thus, she ends up sleeping with Abilene, too.  Returning home from this act, as soon as she walks in the door and takes one look at Lois, and the mother knows what has happened.  Instead of being mad, Lois tells her daughter to move on . . . to Sonny.  This happens while Duane is out of town, having left after splitting with Jacy.  It also means that Sonny stops seeing Ruth.  Speaking of seeing, when Duane comes home to find out what has been going on between his best friend and his ex-girlfriend, Duane smashes a beer bottle in Sonny’s eye.  This is not enough to stop Jacy from wanting to marry Sonny, though she is annoyed after their Oklahoma elopement with his eyepatch.  On the way home from said rendezvous, they are stopped by an Oklahoma state trooper who had been out looking for Jacy and Sonny after she left a note for her parents.  Upon returning to Anarene, Jacy is forbidden from seeing Sonny ever again, which she apparently complies with by going off to college.  Sonny, on the other hand, is going nowhere, and this begins to sink in when one of his friends, the slow-witted Billy (Sam Bottoms) is struck in the street by a car and killed.  At first, Sonny gets in his truck and begins to leave town.  After a while, he thinks better of it and instead goes to Ruth for comfort.  She rages for a moment before telling him everything will be okay, and the film ends, thankfully.

There is no plot in The Last Picture Show.  The only reason it has the title it does is because towards the end, with Duane about to enter the army, he and Sonny go to see the final screening at the theater.  I did not mention this moment in the last paragraph because it has little bearing on anything.  What you are seeing is a slowly dying town where the inhabitants seek to dull their boredom through intercourse.  To me, this is more of a theme than an actual plot.  As a practicing Catholic, I point to the human wreckage caused by their activities.  I am writing this review on the weekend of the sixth Sunday of Easter.  In the readings for this Sunday, the second one is from 1 Peter 3:15-18.  In it, verse seventeen states, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.”  During the homily, the priest talked about martyrdom, focusing for a time on what is known as “white martyrdom.”  These are the little sacrifices we are called upon to make in our daily lives where we avoid being led into sin at the cost of something in our lives.  As a film like this one clearly demonstrates, today’s society is replete with opportunities to instill this practice.  To be sure, being a martyr does not involve comfort.  This is what all the characters are seeking order to escape the humdrum of their lives.  Society, as represented by Lois, will tell you that there is nothing wrong with fooling around.  Yet, look at the consequences.  Duane puts his best friend Sonny in the hospital.  At one point, Duane and Sonny hire a woman to have sex with Billy, who then gives the boy a bloody nose when he does not perform properly.  When Sam the Lion finds out about this, he bans Sonny from the pool hall for a time.  There is also the pain caused to Ruth.  Finally, look at the way Jacy is used.  None of this can be worth it, and they are problems that are easily avoided by saving sex for marriage.

Well, cross out another one of the AFI list from the 1970s in The Last Picture Show.  I had never heard of this movie before I watched it, and I hope to never hear of it again.  I would love it if you joined me in forgetting this film as quickly as possible after you have read this review.  Short of that, if you do encounter it, may this treatise come to mind.

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