“Are you really so down on people, or are you just being fashionable?” asks Patsy, an eternal optimist. She refuses to let life in New York City beat the smile from her face. Alfred, on the other hand, has turned off his feelings. As a devout apathetist Alfred no longer feels pleasure or pain. Opposites attract, so of course, they fall in love…sort of.
Little Murders explores the ways we defend ourselves from madness, either through well recognized institutions and traditions or by developing our own system of procedures designed to protect us. Before his world collapses into madness Alfred states, “It’s dangerous to challenge a system unless you’re completely at peace with the thought that you’re not going to miss it when it collapses.”
Prior to meeting Patsy, Alfred exists as an emotionally zombie, uncaring, unfeeling. She tries to change him and nearly succeeds, but when he opens up, he falls apart. I hate to think that either director Alan Arkin or writer Jules Feiffer truly believe the only way to survive in this world is to become jaded. Funny as he maybe, Albert’s character holds a deep sorrow. Whereas, Patsy and even her rather particular family, overflow with emotion. Her mother and father often start their statements with a hand clap or a knee-slap. The percussive sound of hands slapping quickly call to attention the excitement of the speaker. It as if their joy can no longer be contained.
That hand-clap along with the exclamation “Terrific”, a phrase Patsy’s mom and dad both use, is a lively, animated gesture akin to what the characters in a Cassavetes film do. I find this just terrific. Yes, “Terrific!” It is not only a phrase you don’t seem to hear that often, but it is done with such a leave of energy that its strikes my ears in a strange yet comforting fashion. Today, most people live more reserved, like Alfred, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting to get socked with the next big disappointment.
I certainly don’t think this is anyway to live life, whether in New York or otherwise, but as a survival tactic it might do just fine. So the question is, do you risk it all for the heights of joy knowing that there might also be great pain or do you block it all out and save yourself from both joy and pain? Little Murders takes a satirical look at this troublesome paradox.