Ego and Self in the All is Lost Moment
Why do we (so often) need an All Is Lost Moment in our own lives to break through to another level? Can’t we just do it at a happy time? Do we have to push ourselves to the absolute abyss in order for real change to sink in?
I hate to say it, but that seems to be true. Certainly it has been in my own life. And for sure it’s true in fiction.
In fact, we might define “wisdom” as the ability to transform oneself to a higher level WITHOUT going through an All Is Lost moment. Have you done this? Neither have I.
I think the reason is that in an Epiphanal Moment, the epicenter of our psyche shifts from the ego to the Self. That’s the definition of an Epiphanal Moment. And the nature of the ego is to hang onto the steering wheel with everything it’s got. You and I (or Life itself) have to pulverize that SOB before it’ll let go.
Here’s another All Is Lost/Ephiphanal Moment—this one from the movie Big Night (1996). Have you seen it? It’s a great one. Starring Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, with Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, Campbell Scott, Ian Holm, Marc Anthony, and Allison Janney.
Big Night is about two brothers recently emigrated from Italy—Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci)—whose restaurant in 1950s America is struggling desperately to survive. The problem is that Primo, a genius chef, refuses to compromise his integrity by dumbing down his cuisine … and the mac-and-cheese US palate isn’t ready yet to embrace his lofty standards. The crisis comes on one “big night” when the brothers prepare an all-out feast anticipating the visit of famous bandleader Louis Prima—and Prima fails to show. The whole idea, it turns out, was a ruse by a rival restaurateur to drive Primo and Secondo out of business.
The All Is Lost Moment comes at the end of this desperate night—in a slap-happy brawl on the beach between the two brothers.
(in Italian with subtitles)
I have tried to teach you, Secondo … but you’ve learned nothing! Why do you want to stay here? This place is eating us alive! If I give up my art, it dies. Better I should die.
Primo staggers off with his new girlfriend Allison Janney. The brothers part. They’re broke. They’re too proud to work for anyone else. And any new restaurant they might open is sure to fail as their current one has. The situation is definitely All Is Lost.
Now comes the Epiphanal Moment.
The morning after. Restaurant kitchen. Secondo enters. The mood is bleak. Marc Anthony, the busboy, is asleep on the butcher block table. Secondo gets down a skillet from an overhead rack. Marc Anthony rises, steps to the side. Without a word Secondo prepares an omelet for himself and Marc Anthony. Secondo sits at the butcher block and begins to eat.
Now: Primo enters. Still in his chef’s white jacket from the night before. Primo says nothing, simply stands there. Secondo glances uneasily to his brother. Then he rises, gets a plate down from the shelf, spoons a portion of omelet onto it for his brother and sets the plate down beside his own. He adds a baguette and sits back down. A few more anxious beats pass. Will Primo resume the clash from last night? Has the brawl itself—and the angry words spoken—shattered the bond between them forever?
Primo grabs a chair and carries it over to the butcher block. He sits beside his brother. Primo takes a first bite of the omelet. Secondo takes a bite of his own.
Tentatively, Secondo puts an arm around his brother’s shoulder. He pats Primo’s back. Another bite from Primo. Primo puts his arm around Secondo. No word has been spoken. The brothers continue eating their omelets, side by side.
Sometimes an Epiphanal Moment simply acknowledges What Is Really Important. This acknowledgment doesn’t solve anything in the material world. For Primo and Secondo, their business prospects continue to be beyond bleak. Neither one has any idea how to go forward professionally. But they have both recognized What Really Counts.
They have moved from the ego to the Self.
Here’s the scene on YouTube.
And the fight on the beach.
Big Night was directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott from a script by Tucci and Joseph Tropiano. It’s a good one!