The Long Goodbye (film)


The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman’s classic movie, can be summarised as a song and a feeling.

The song has the same title as the movie and was composed by John Williams. It plays throughout the movie and changes in accordance with the characters that it plays over the top of (or underneath of). It reflects the central message throughout many of Altman’s films: that all individuals are part of a collective interpersonal web, and individuality is an abstraction resting over the top of fundamental interconnection of thought and action.

Partly due to the Long Goodbye being based on a book by Raymond Chandler, at first glance there appears to be a central character: private-eye Philip Marlowe played by Elliot Gould. Gould works perfectly in this role, as his laid back, and at times almost non-existent demeanor, allows him to fade into the background of the omnipotent feeling that soaks through the film. It works that Marlowe is a private eye: like all of us, he tries to figure out a world that continuously amazes and hurts him, but is sublimely beautiful regardless.

Altman seldom focuses on a sole character for very long, and when he does he/she is drowned out by the voices that operate in the background. They are the voices that make us who we are: we are the product of what people have thought and said throughout history. There is a constant noise of ideology, desire and speculation that confuses and informs us, and only rarely gives us anything we can claim as Truth.

The storyline, while interesting is overly complex. Perhaps as to reflect the absurdity of the complicated turn of events that we come across in life: it makes us think “How did I get into this mess?” However, the storyline is not really that important. It just provides further evidence of the fact that Marlowe is in the process of his long goodbye: a goodbye to his sense of moral fabric and understanding, and what will be his eventual goodbye to humanity, regardless of what happens during the story at hand.

The feeling of both the song and the movie is one of psychedelic loss. Individuals live in a universe that is enchanting and beautiful but is also fundamentally brutal, as we all die, and before we die, our idealism and at times our hope does first.


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