Moriarty's Musings: Barney's Version

Moriarty's Musings: Barney's Version

I’m not particularly inspired to live longer because of films such as Barney’s Version. I do, however, leave my second viewing of that film with greater understanding and compassion for the human race.

I suppose that is mainly Mordecai Richler’s achievement.

I doubt, though, if Barney’s rather sad journey through life would have ever reached me if it weren’t for the undeniably divine talents of Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike.

What is Barney’s Version about?

I’d say it offers you one man’s prolonged and inevitably defeated experience with true love.

What makes it a great, modern pilgrimage?

You somehow feel that all of us, male and female, are at one time or another Barney Panofsky.

We also ask ourselves, “Are we human beings, in the end, even worthy of feeling true love?”

The last shot of Rosamund Pike at Barney’s grave has us sending him the blessings of every one of us in the audience. Those who won’t send him our blessings are, well, not completely human yet.

No, I don’t think Barney is an easily likable person in any way.

He’s what I think both the novelist and screenwriter intended him to be: a chubby, balding, brash and insulting little “Jewish guy.”

Barney is also, however, a great, particularly Canadian anti-hero.

As I began this second tribute to Mordecai Richler’s classic (my first is lost somewhere in Big Hollywood’s database), my concentration soon turned from the particulars of Barney’s Version to the question: what would really define a distinctly Canadian anti-hero?


From the specific to the literary general!

Sounds boring, I know, but let’s go there anyway.

I can’t say what might define Montreal’s Jewish community from New York’s. I felt as easily at home with the Panofsky family as I did with Stella Adler and Harold Clurman in Manhattan.

Then again, I have had problems with a few of Montreal’s offerings to Vancouver, Jewish and otherwise.

There’s something about Montreal that is neither Canadian nor French.

It’s Montreal.

I definitely have a love-hate relationship with Montreal.

Leaving that emotional turmoil for another essay, I know that Mordecai Richler’s unique achievement – his creation of a quintessentially Canadian anti-hero – moves me with greater depth and staying-power than, say, anything out of the brilliant but purely French, i.e. Albert Camus.


Richler and I are both North American and therein lies the edge.

Barney and I are both alcoholics.

Tragically for Barney, he was a functioning alcoholic for most of his shortened life. So the truth didn’t hit him until it was too late.

The Truth, with a capital T, however, is that, in the end, we are all Barney. There’s not a man or woman who doesn’t think that many other people are handsomer or more beautiful or smarter or more sophisticated or luckier than we are in every way! And that general rule of thumb was my self-loathing handbook, however, until I turned 70.

Now, at the beginning of my 71st year, no one is luckier than I am!

The reasoning behind that declaration, however, is also meant for another article or book or poem or symphony or…  whatever!

The journalist in me has just viewed a brace of You Tube interviews with famous modern French or French-influenced writers, from Richler to Jean-Paul Sartre.

All are, in one way or another, because of the French influence in their lives, either lapsed or silently excommunicated former members of Judeo-Christianity.

However, to interject a vastly more attractive theme, here is Rosamund Pike.

Intellectuals near a woman such as you can see in this photo?

The first thought that comes to the mind of my intellectually sexual being is: “How much more attractive and, in fact, lovable the English actress Rosamund Pike is when she speaks North American.”

With that off my chest, I’m fond of believing that women see and fall in love with anti-heroes more honestly than any male intellectual can.

Those men who claim to love anti-heroes more than they love real heroes? Those who prove their love by writing tomes about the walking wounded? Whether philosophical or fictional, these volumes of intellectual passion are utterly inadmissible confessions!

Meanwhile, Barney kneels in justifiable worship before the gorgeous Rosamund Pike.

In the universe of literature, however, Barney has within him more than a few elements of James Joyce’s Leopold Bloom and this is where Barney becomes, for me, a kind of Catholic anti-Saint!


A Catholic anti-Saint?

Well, to even approach such a category, you have to love James Joyce the same way Barney loves Rosamund Pike.

Barney in my eyes, at this possibly yet excessively matured moment in my life – which explains my own obsession with so many intellectuals – is a saint of sexual defeat.

A divinely Canadian child of Leopold Bloom.

Oh, I know he’s really the son of Dustin Hoffman’s bitterly funny Montreal cop. None of us, however, if we look closely, feel spiritually attached to our biological parents.

Joyce didn’t.

I don’t.

I leave you with what Joyce himself might call Moriarty’s idea of a Joycean “epiphany”: the life of Barney Panofsky.

In short, with Barney, we are most certainly and profoundly looking within ourselves for some explanation of why we’re here.

Mordecai Richler, not being James Joyce, could not answer that question.

Joyce, with Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of Ulysses, says it best:

“I said, ‘Yes! I will! Yes!’”

Not an ounce of Barney’s defeat about life in Molly Bloom, her husband Leopold or James Joyce himself.

“I said, ‘Yes! I will! Yes!’”

The same pulsating affirmation runs through Finnegan’s Wake beginning with its first word, Riverrun.

God willing, that will prove to be the Irish in us all!