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BOOKS G THE CULTURE Love and Death BY ROXANNE BOGUCKA The Human Stain Directed by Robert Benton My Life Without Me Directed by Isabel Coixet 1 n theaters now are a pair of movies that deal with love on the final approach to death. In The Human Stain, based on the Philip Roth novel, a widower is gifted with one last fling. My Life Without Me progresses through the weeks leading up to a young workingclass hero’s death from ovarian cancer. Really, The Human Stain is a chronicle of a dead man walking. It looks back to the day Coleman Silk \(Anthony black man in order to pass for white, a decision that allowed him to escape being a “mess boy” in the Navy, to enroll in the college of his choice under the GI Bill, and subsequently to make his way successfully into ivy-walled New England academia. He adopted a Jewish identity, preferring the possibility of a life spent facing anti-Semitism to a life spent facing racism. There is symmetry here. Silk’s stern father, an optometrist forced to work as a train porter, demands that he give up boxing to concentrate on his studies. After his dad dies on the job, Silk’s Jewish boxing promoter becomes the most influential man in his life. So Coleman Silk, chair of the classics department at an unnamed college, is brought low by an idle comment willfully misinterpreted as racist. Referring to two students who have never graced his classroom with their presence, Silk suggests that perhaps they are “spooks.” Unfortunately, the two students are African Americans and his phraseology is not understood in the ectoplasmic sense he intended. \(It brings to mind a news story of a few years ago, when some government functionary used the Despite his protests that he has never seen the students and could not have known their ethnicity, Silk’s academic career is destroyed, and his wife dies of an aneurysmanother victim of PC! upon hearing about the racism charges. This rather far-fetched outcome is necessary to achieve what this movie has on its minda stinging indictment of political correctness. The Human Stain is set in the late 1990s, just in time for a juxtaposition of the Clinton-Lewinsky cock-sucking scandal and Coleman Silk’s racism scandal. Political correctness takes a number of body blows for its pursed-lip disapproval and its persecutory aspects, but the movie is careful to show that the effects of political correctness are a walk in the park compared to the real discrimination minorities experienced in Silk’s youth. Unable to adequately write his own defense, Silk befriends reclusive author is recalled to life by Silk’s joie de vivre. Part of what puts the spring in Silk’s step is his unforeseen, passionate affair college cleaning woman 30 years his junior. Unfortunately for viewers, this affair, his “last love,” does not swoop us up in its embrace. We neither feel their passion nor see anything to make it believable, and it is further undermined by nearly identical scorching scenes of Silk as a young lover \(played No amount of Nicole Kidman sashaying around bare can substitute for the genuine article. Just to show that their relationship isn’t wholly lubricious, Faunia is melodramatically damaged, bringing a country song’s-worth of baggageabuse, grief, and a deranged Yet the storylines with Nathan and Faunia, dealing with age, class, and actual instead of assumed Jewishness, seem almost incidental; the main event is race and the sort of Sophie’s Choice that Silk made. At the end of The Human Stain it is posited that claiming his blackness would have cleared Silk of the racism charges, as though blackness itself makes racist thought or speech impossible. That’s just the kind of bullshit that pervades this prestige project and is further evidence that it lacks both a beating heart and a brain. In My Life Without Me, Ann \(Sarah coincidencecleans classrooms at the local college where, in a fairer world, she would be a student. After learning that she has advanced, untreatable cancer and will die within weeks, she decides not to reveal her diagnosis, not 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/5/03