Yesterday night I watched the 1995 Michael Mann crime epic Heat for the umpteenth time. It is my understanding that the movie’s not particularly appraised, and it’s definitely not among Mann’s most well-known titles. Critics and movie-goers tend to think of The Insider or The Last of the Mohicans, or maybe his Miami Vice work in the 80s, as being his defining directorial moments, Regardless, for me the movie has attained artistic status that elevates it beyond that of a motion picture and up to par with, I don’t know, the Sistine Chapel perhaps. Think hard before you label this as sacrilege.
Chances are that if you’ve heard about the movie, you know about the diner scene, where Al Pacino and Robert de Niro, playing career cop and criminal respectively, are pitted against each other, face to face, standing firm about who they are and what they’re looking to do. It’s a marvelous scene, and if you haven’t watched it, you should.
My favorite scene, however, happens before that one. Unsurprisingly, one cannot easily find a YouTube link to it. Backdrop: L.A Homicide collectively decide on a night out with their wives. Vincent Hanna (Pacino) dances with his wife Justine Hanna (Diane Venora), both of them tipsy. At some point, Pacino gets paged (pagers, I know, right?) and his oversight is requested in a murder scene loosely connected to the main plot. “This better be earth-shattering”, he says.
Couple hours later, Pacino arrives back in the dining area, currently occupied by just Justine and another couple in a different table. Justine, obviously distraught, begins the following dialogue, which I will recite from memory, so excuse any minor discrepancies:
– I guess the earth shattered.
-So why didn’t you let Bosko take you home? (Bosko is another cop in the unit.)
– I didn’t want to ruin their night too!
– So what happened?
– Honey, you don’t wanna know.
– I’d like to know what’s behind that grim look on your face!
– I don’t do that, you know that. Come on, let’s go.
– You never told me I was gonna be excluded.
– I told you when we first hooked up, honey, that you would have to share me with all the bad people and ugly events on this planet.
– And I bought into that sharing, because I love you. I love you fat, bald, money, no money, driving a bus, I don’t care. But you have got to be present, like a normal guy, some of the time. This is not sharing. This is leftovers.
– Oh, I see, so what I should do is come home and tell you: “Hey baby, guess what. I just walked out of a crime scene where this junkie asshole fried his baby in a microwave because it was crying too loud. So let me share that with you. And in sharing, we will somehow.. ummm.. cathartically dispel all of this heinous shit.” Right? Wrong.
This is your life. There’s a fire inside you, and it’s raging on and on day and night. It encodes what you want, what you’re looking at, and what you’re after. And the closer you get to it, the harder it burns, the harder your brain is telling you to quit and look for safety. Vince Hanna got into 3 marriages in order to lie to himself that he cares about things beyond his work. Neil McCauley (De Niro) attempts a serious relationship for the first time ever, but he knows the drill: “If you wanna be making moves on the street, never get attached to anything or anybody that you can’t walk out on thirty seconds flat after you spot the heat coming round the corner.”
Maybe you have the opportunity to be with somebody you have feelings for, and one night you wake up, see them occupying the other side of the bed and go screw a stranger in the local dive bar.
Maybe you’re close to having the job of your dreams but you cower out and stay in your current job because it affords you safety.
Maybe you’re not asking for that hot girl’s number because you fear what will happen if she agrees to it.
Maybe you’re in a one-year long relationship you knew had practically ended a month into it.
Maybe you’re close to being one year sober, and because humanity has agreed to the Westernized division of 365 days per annum, you get shitfaced on the 364th night.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
It doesn’t really matter. If you don’t do it, if you don’t try your utmost to touch that fire, you will always regret it. And that’s a slow death that is far worse than anything I can imagine.