(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Told from the perspective of a second-person narrator, who interprets the thoughts of a man viewing a film in a theater, “Moving Pictures” does not involve the usual interaction of characters. It is a roving excursion through the thoughts of the unnamed viewer of the matinee. At times, the man appears to be either a novelist turned screenwriter or simply a highly imaginative viewer who fantasizes that he has written the ninety-minute Western film. The narrator creates uncertainty about the identity of the man: “Perhaps you have written this movie. Perhaps not.” The man’s observations are filtered through the commentary of the narrator, who initially makes remarks about the American film industry.

The man is aware that the James Bond films have been seen by countless people, which indicates the immense popularity of films. The narrator notes the high status of film directors and the importance of movie houses as arenas of visual culture. The narrator also analyzes the motives of the viewer, who is a kind of Everyman in search of enlightenment and perhaps an experience of transcendence.

In probing the thoughts of the main character, the narrator informs the reader of the viewer’s background. He grew up during the Aquarian age of the 1960’s and now lives in the fast lane. Sanka, traffic jams, and hectic business schedules are part of his current existence, which contrasts with his earlier life when he was addicted to methadone. The man, who has a degree in English, uses the Neptune Theater as an escape from the tedium of his daily routine.

The background of the viewer is continually unraveled by the narrator. The man is experiencing a failed marriage to a woman, named either Megan or Daphne, who is a semiprofessional actress. The worlds of illusion and reality—especially concerning the man’s identity—become indistinguishable. Details of the failed marriage are presented. The pending separation, resulting from disaffection on both sides, poses a series of depressing complications involving children from a former marriage, a tax audit by the Internal Revenue Service, mortgage payments, and alimony. There is also an allusion to...

(The entire section is 890 words.)