Last night I had a dream that I died. I had a heart condition of some kind, had a heart attack, something, and I died, but afterwards I was still cogent, aware, thinking, wondering, “Will I always be thinking? Even after I’m buried? Will I be trapped?” And I saw all these people from high school coming back to see me, and I had this great feeling of unfairness. I thought, “All of these people get to keep on living, and they’re all so young, and I have to be dead.” I think about dying a lot. It’s strange that we manage to move forward under such a tremendous weight as knowing that, someday, we will cease to move forward anymore, cease to live, go from something, everything, to nothing, from existence to non-existence. I find it baffling that we find it in ourselves to do anything, and not just to crumple into small messes and nervously wait.
Farewell to Hollywood is about a teenage girl, Reggie Nicholson, who has cancer, and she is dying. She meets an older man, Henry Corra, at a film festival, and they decide to make a movie together. Reggie is obsessed with movies; she likes Quentin Tarantino and P.T. Anderson and Kevin Smith and Stanley Kubrick — the usual suspects. She wants to spend her life making movies and watching movies, living in other worlds and forgetting mostly about all of the pain and finality that await her, sooner than anyone would like, and so on.
Henry and Reggie have some kind of relationship; it is unclear in what ways they love each other, except for that they do love each other, wholly and deeply. Reggie is in love, Henry, maybe not, I’m not sure. He is in his 50s, but the age issue is pretty meaningless. He acts with as much maturity, maybe less, than Reggie. There might be something despicable in their relationship, but it’s difficult to judge. In fact, the movie is a lesson in reserving judgment as a whole. We oughtn’t judge people, ever, but it’s so easy sometimes to see the worst in everything and everyone. Henry and Reggie tell their side of the last couple of years of Reggie’s life, wherein Reggie’s parents go from trying to be as supportive as possible to threatening to kill themselves in front of her to wishing that she was just dead and saying things no child should ever hear from their parents. But, again, there are no judgments here; this is one side of a story — one of an infinite number, a prism that only seems to get deeper the more ways you look at it.
Farewell to Hollywood is a documentation of pain. It masquerades as nothing else. The first scene of the movie is Henry spreading a portion of Reggie’s ashes, saying she doesn’t want her parents to be at the memorial and that they will just receive a package, presumably containing some ashes, from a messenger that tells them their daughter has died. Everything else is just the path that took everyone to that point. And it isn’t that Reggie is a phenomenal person, or outstanding, necessarily; she has an incredible sense of grace and intelligence about her, but she is mostly normal, trying to maintain composure when the odds of such seem slim. She laughs a lot, as much as she cries. But you can’t judge anyone — Reggie, her parents, Henry, anyone — for what they have done. This is their individual story, and while there are many like it, it is unique and singular, alone.
I don’t think we are capable of dealing with situations like these. When Reggie is laughing, there is some denial in it. Just because something is inevitable does not mean that it is OK; people say, “Well, everybody dies,” as if it means something, as if it gives some sense of levity to the situation. Also, we pretend that suffering and length of life have some bearing on the quality of death, but, in the face of non-existence, memory, it seems, is temporary. Every death is a kind of failure. It wipes out everything in its path and leaves only emptiness in its wake. There is unfairness in every death. But I can’t help feeling that there is a lot of unfairness in Reggie’s. I spent time with her, here, and know that she deserved something more, but I suppose we all do, and she is no different, but young, and she saw it all coming, like a train in slow motion. I always feel like I am dying, and I find it that hard to take, but she knew. Maybe there is calm in the center of that certainty, but I doubt it.