“A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home — only the millions of last moments . . . nothing more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments.”
– Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
Two bodies, in the bleached twilight, the sudden glow of an atom bomb. Two bodies, already lost, gone before the sound can emerge. Bodies entwined. Bodies coated in the dust, the thin cold radiation dust. There must have been so many lovers evaporated in the single-second burst, or left beneath rubble, twisted and burned.
We are accustomed to lovers. We are experts in love. It happens to us all, or it never happens. It happens and lasts, eternal and fixed, or it slips away, and we spend a lifetime lamenting and slowly forgetting. We can imagine love, physical and spiritual. We have seen it, in endless movies. Movies have taught us how to love, and the gestures that go with it. But there are things movies cannot teach us, perhaps. Things that can only be hinted at. We think we know, but we are kidding ourselves.
She recounts Hiroshima. She has seen it, the newsreels, the museums, the tourist trails. She knows the suffering. She was alive, a world away, as the city died. She had loved a German, a Nazi, and flirted with madness in a dank cellar. These sufferings give us some faint understanding of ultimate horrors. We can say words like Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen Belsen and imagine our own pains and think that they give some precedent, just as we imagine love and use our own experiences, or those of the cinema, to define it. But what do we know? How can we imagine?
His family were in Hiroshima when the bombs fell. The city died, but has returned to life. It never sleeps. Somebody is always awake. They make love, dust become sweat on their bodies.
They fall in love, or something approaching it. She has forgotten her Nazi, his eyes and his face. She is leaving, and will soon forget him too. They will die before they see each other again. Her love will deform her, or the memory of the love, as children were deformed, born from poisoned wombs, in Hiroshima.
And memory is frail, frailer even than life, which can be gone on a single blast. Remembrance, of a forbidden fling, or of an atomic bomb, is a betrayal. And memories have become cultural, emblems of the nations who suffer, badges of honour. Horrors are recreated, in endlessly devolving cycles, for the comprehension of others. He knows she understands nothing of Hiroshima, but he loves her anyway. He listens. He wants to know what was happening, in a little French town, far away, when the bombs were dropped. He wants to know that there were other lives, out there, who only heard about Hiroshima, but did not suffer Hiroshima.
One of the greatest films.