I always find that I need to relate to the characters to enjoy a book, and Brian sounded like he could not have been more different from me – him being a middle-aged white man who lives a secluded life without any friends or family. The only thing we seem to have in common was our love for films. This is a book that could have easily been pretentious: not much really happened plot-wise, it is just someone’s journey of becoming a film buff. Instead, it is placid, nuanced, and so preciously sincere, perfectly encapsulating the fear of and yearning for connections, be it with people or with art.
I was first pleasantly surprised by how much our internal monologues resembled each other. The simplicity and routineness in Brian’s life are contrasted by his deeply introspective and self-conscious inner world: honest confessions of bowel movements, anxious and careful decisions to develop a new hobby, ruminations in embarrassment after speaking in public, and relief upon learning that people did not seem to mind. Sometimes I found myself disagreeing with him too: his ‘left-wing in theory but not in practice’ or his underlying Western-gaze on Japanese cinema. However, those criticisms would always dissipate at the genuineness and humanness of his character. I read Brian as a man on the spectrum, from how he religiously stuck to routines and how social interactions, the idea of intimacy, and certain sensory stimulations overwhelm him, yet Brian would see no point in labelling himself. He is perpetually on the periphery of all social categorizations, escaping the burden of expectations. He finds refuge in Japanese cinema just like how he found solace in film at large, a quiet haven in this overstimulating world he could call his own.
Brian’s upbringing also slowly unravels as he starts to decipher his feelings through films: isolation is a longstanding theme in his life, both involuntary and self-imposed. We witness him encounter retirement, old age, and the deterioration of his eyesight, and resultingly having to adjust his routines and principles, eventually deciding that change need not be catastrophic. A decade would go by without warning, smoothly montaged like that in films. Jeremy Cooper’s non-invasive writing style also made me completely immersed in Brian’s journey, as if it were my journey too – in a way, it is. Things wash over us like a fine mist and we could both make peace with them in the end.
Brian rekindled my love for the big screen and the sense of enriched solitude. I now go into the BFI looking for Brians. I could see myself as him too.