Vincent’s Failure

In the film Time Out (2001) the protagonist, Vincent experiences a major loss in his life, the loss of his job. The impact and result of this type of loss is defined by Lauren Berlant in After the Good Life, An Impasse when she writes that the result of this type of event is called an impasse. According to Berlant, “[a]n impasse is a holding station that doesn’t hold securely but opens out into anxiety, that dogpaddling around a space whose contours remain obscure” (199). In other words, an impasse is a state of being.  With Vincent, this occurs after the “forced loss” he experiences. Vincent’s impasse appears in seemingly illogical behaviors such as creating a double life, one life he lived at home with his family and a second life he lived while borrowing money from his father, scheming money from his friends and eventually selling counterfeit goods. This “dogpaddling around a space” is his way of not only dealing with his loss in the way his wife and children may have wanted him to, but finding an alternative of going back to the failed system, or life he was ousted out of. He’s pretending to engage without actually participating.

Regarding optimism, Berlant writes that Time Out “witness the blow to traditional props for optimism about live-building that had once sustained the aspirationally upwardly mobile, and pay attention to how different kinds of people catch up to their new situation” (192). We see this in Vincent and those in his circle. Everyone in Vincent’s life was a participant in his fantasy of upward mobility including his family and friends.  His friends, those who seemingly recklessly gave Vincent money to “invest” are living with their own financial challenges and long to “catch up”.

Though it may seem that according to Berlant, he should have “a recession grimace” (196) stamped on his face under the assumption he lived the “good-life” prior to his termination, Vincent’s grimace seems to only appear  when he is challenged by those who know his truth. The security guards, his oldest son, Jean-Michel, and Jaffrey knows the real Vincent. One may wonder if Vincent wants the so-called “good life” back especially when he severs tied with a long-time co-worker and friend, Jaffrey and he is not honest with his wife and children. The other possibly that he does want the good life back, but only on his terms and conditions, not the terms and conditions he once had.

Jean-Michel is another person that saw who Vincent really is. Vincent’s fantasy and method of obtaining upward mobility is obvious to Jean-Michel since Vincent’s game is very familiar to Jean-Michel and the hotel security guard. Jean-Michel’s method of optioning upward mobility is less than honorable but effective. As Berlant mentions, Time Out manages to show how “different kinds of people catch up to their new situation” (192).  Vincent’s failure to own or admit who he is is only visible to Jean-Michel because Jean-Michel is a version of Vincent; only Jean-Michel is more experienced and is not ashamed.

At the conclusion of Time Out a new managerial position practically falls into Vincent’s lap, and this is when the “permanent grimace” returns to his face. He doesn’t want to go back to the life he was dismissed from. His story ends as he goes back to the beginning. He experiences another impasse, but this time it is the second type of impasse Berlant defines. For Vincent, this impasse “is what happens when one finds oneself adrift amid normative intimate or material terms of reciprocity…coasting though life, as it were, until one discovers a loss of traction” (200). The double life he briefly lived is coming to an end and it’s no longer in his hands. He is returning to precarity. According to Berlant “percarity is a condition of dependency” (192).  For Vincent, this is his failure.

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2 thoughts on “Vincent’s Failure”

  1. I think you are right to point out the importance of Berlant’s idea of an impasse being a space where Vincent copes (or refuses to cope) with loss. When I read this essay, my mind kept thinking of this space in context of queer theory. The theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, in her essay “Across Gender, Across Sexuality: Willa Cather and Others,” refers to this type of space as “liminal,” or a type of middle ground (Sedgwick n.p.). What I think causes Vincent’s anxiety is that in his society he is forced to hold up the constant image of being successful, even though it forces him to live a lie. Vincent says in the film that he is happiest driving, so I think that his car is meant to represent this space of liminality, one where he is constantly moving and isn’t forced to face consequences. I believe this supports your point that Vincent is “finding an alternative of going back to the failed system, or life he was ousted out of.” This post also seems to be a good lead in to the idea of Vincent’s grimace being a sort of mask or image that he creates to hide his shortcomings as a successful provider. I think this self masking contributes to Vincent’s anxiety, and as you point out, why Jean-Michel, who is proud of his alternate way of living, isn’t ashamed. It is the second type of impasse that Berlant mentions that I am having trouble grasping. She states that Vincent is “coasting through life, as it were, until one discovers a loss of traction” (200). To me, this alludes to not being able to escape the alternate path you choose. In my opinion Vincent is an exception to this claim, because his social networks (such as his father’s connections) allow him to escape a system that would create lasting damage for someone less fortunate.

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