I dated. They took me to countless movies, and I never heard a word. What’s more, in the dark of the movie theater, with no hope of reading my date’s lips as he struck up conversations with me, I nodded and feigned attention, agreement, acceptance all the more.
It now all seems so ludicrous, if not painful. For years I have listened to my friends—especially my academic friends—rave about movies, past and present. For years I have shifted back and forth on my feet at parties, smiling, nodding, looking genuinely interested in the discussion of this film or that. Not that I felt left out of their discussions. I just felt somehow disoriented, out of step—not quite passing. Like many deaf people, I not only saw films but enjoyed them. What I didn’t know in all those years of adolescent pretense, but know so well now, is that I tend to enjoy films differently than hearing spectators do. I came to know that while they were concentrating on clues to solve the mystery, say, in the dialogue between characters, my eyes, a little more attuned to detail than theirs, would see in the background the weapon of death or notice the facial tension and odd mannerisms of the guilty party.
Take one example: in my early years of graduate school, one of the last years I still let dates take me to movies, I saw David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Just recently I had a conversation with my husband about that movie; it was a conversation based on memory, and on memory in different contexts since we had not seen the film together or even remotely in the same place. What I remembered, what I talked about, were vivid visual details of the movie: the ear lying in the grass that opens the movie, the color of Isabella Rossellini’s lips and the way they pouted and quivered, the tenseness in her body, the vivid surreal scenes splashed like canvases in a museum of modern art. And while he himself pointed out how visual the movie was (as indeed most movies are), what my husband remembered most clearly were the conversations. He knew that the severed ear in the grass belonged to Rossellini’s husband, that the husband had been kidnapped, and that her actions throughout the movie were done as ransom to keep her husband alive (plenty of reason for body tension and quivering lips). My husband knew this, of course, because they talk about it in the movie.
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