Cinema: The Alienation Blues

  • Share
  • Read Later

T.R. Baskin is heavy laden with home truths. Big cities— Chicago in this particular case—alienate us one from the other. They corrupt. They deaden. Upon occasion, one stranger meets another. Some spark of humanity is generated, if only for a moment, but its warmth and light rapidly flicker and die. Alone once more, the stranger wanders down a crowded street . . .

Candice Bergen plays (she can never be said actually to portray) T.R. Baskin, a callow young thing from Ohio, so fresh faced that she looks like a Clearasil testimonial. T.R. gets a job in the typing pool of some Kafkaesque neon-lit office. A friend finds her a date with an affluent racist, whom she fearlessly denounces. After that it is home to her crummy one-room apartment and endless nights falling asleep in front of the television.

Desperate, she walks the streets and notices a man in the window of a coffee shop. He is tall, curly haired, solidly built and, most important, reading R.D. Laing. To bed. Next morning, even before the gentleman turns T.R. out, he manages to turn her off by slipping her "a little cab fare"; Shock. Tears. Failure of communication. Alone once more . . .

All of this is vouchsafed via flash backs. In between such scenes, T.R. is in the hotel room of a nervous, balding, middle-aged automobile salesman from Utica who got her name from the swine who humiliated her. Peter Boyle, as the salesman, and James Caan, as the swine, do the best they can, which is extremely well indeed, but the movie's clumsy feints at sophistication and its grotesque sentimentality prevail. "Do you ever think of writing 'I love you' on the inside of the tires you sell?" T.R. inquires of the salesman, who is understandably unnerved by the question. With dialogue like that, it is no wonder T.R. is alone and friendless.