My Dinner with André

by André Gregory, Wallace Shawn

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344

Louis Malle's 1981 film My Dinner with Andre recounts an evening of conversation between two long-time friends, actor/playwright Wallace Shawn and off-Broadway stage director Andre Gregory.

The film opens with the voice-over of a characteristically anxious Shawn on his subway ride uptown, concerned about the rumors that his friend, who he hasn't seen in years, may have lost his mind.

Roughly the first half of the film is taken up with Andre's serpentine tale of the travels and adventures he embarked on five years earlier, when the quality of his life seemed to pall. First, he joined the experimental Polish Laboratory Theatre of his friend Jerzy Grotowski, participating in theatrical rituals performed in forests. He then continued a global search for people exploring the realm of the supernatural, and in particular, the extremes of mental and physical experience. For example, a Buddhist monk, able to support his entire body weight on his fingertips, who accompanies Andre to the Sahara desert to create a theatrical adaptation of Le Petit Prince. Then, following a sojourn with a Scottish agricultural community, he's off to Richard Avedon's Hamptons estate to be buried alive as a prelude to a ritual of rebirth.

In the second part of the film Wally patiently chips away at his friend's notion that putting oneself through such extreme experiences is necessarily the only path to an enlightened life. He also implies that this period of his friend's life was a narcissistic indulgence in which few people, and certainly not himself, could afford to engage. Shawn claims that he can get as much inspiration as he needs from his own creative work and an appreciation of life's simple pleasures, such as drinking a cup of coffee.

In the end, the two friends part amicably, neither able to convince the other of the wisdom of his position, yet neither entirely confident that he is right.

The film closes with Shawn's cab ride home through Manhattan, as he reflects on some of the small epiphanies experienced various places he passes, much as he had described to Andre.

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