Hard to Kill

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This week in the suddenly (and suspiciously) august House of Representatives, as President Clinton died the latest in a string of deaths foretold, it was time to ask again: Is this guy ever gonna fall down?

There's a scene in Hal Harley's superb comic noir Amateur (1994) in which one of the good guys, his brain frazzled by repeated zaps with a severed electrical cord, chases down one of his torturers and starts filling him with lead. As the torturer staggers across a neat green lawn, bullet-riddled but somehow ambulatory, the crazed good guy keeps circling, firing and circling again, now from afar, now from point-blank range. Eventually the bad guy dies. I keep thinking of our President.

Amateur aims its first line at its hero: "This man will die eventually, and there is nothing any of us can do about it." That prognosis may not be shared by the President's pollsters. But this puffed-up charade that is our impeachment process is starting to make that kind of fatalism positively mouth-watering.

In Hartley's version of the made-for-CNN film now in progress, the wronged wife and the seductress are interchangeable. The villains are cruel but deliciously witty, and the only pornographer in sight is the protagonist. But the themes are identical: Memory. Identity. And what to do after you've said you're sorry. "This is me now," says the amnesiac protagonist, played curtly by Martin Donovan. "What else can I do?" Maybe -- just maybe -- it's time to fall down.