Carney on Minnie and Moskowitz

The greatest face in film history? Ray Carney on John Cassavetes’ Minnie and Moskowitz:

Cassavetes won’t let a viewer expand within a romantic moment. No scene, interaction, or shot gives us a simple emotion. If a scene has romance in it, it is invariably crossed with anxiety or pain. If there is seriousness, it is mixed-up with wacky comedy. If one character is feeling one thing, another is feeling something different. Even the lovely meditative interlude in which Minnie talks to Florence about her dreams and desires makes clear that Florence doesn’t understand a word she is saying. While Minnie is waxing poetic, Florence is sitting there bewildered and half-soused. Every perspective is tangled up with contradictory ones. No imaginative relationship—of character to character or viewer to character—is uncompromised or unchallenged. . . .

The secret of Cassavetes’ art is that it is fundamentally an act of empathy. We are not asked to stand outside and judge (as in an Altman film), but to go inside and understand. We can’t hold ourselves above the characters, untouched by them, superior to them. Cassavetes opens trap doors into their consciousnesses, so that they are given the chance to explain themselves and justify their actions. We are forced to see things from their perspectives, feeling what they feel. No one is generic, a type; everyone is a unique individual. Morgan Morgan (played by Tim Carey), odd duck that he is, touches us with his bonhomie and lame attempts at humor. Florence’s sad loneliness and confession of sexual frustration move her beyond being simply comical. We can’t merely laugh at any of Cassavetes’ characters; we are forced to care.