Motion Picture Association of America

Tim and Rema broke up with each other on the northwest corner of Clark and Cornelia in Chicago. The breakup was difficult. They had been together a long time. Tim was distraught at the prospect of not having Rema there anymore, for him. Rema was not as distressed. She seemed more durable than Tim, at least in Tim’s eyes. Rema never cried. Tim always did. We used to have a bet in college about Tim: Twenty bucks says he’s crying right now and then we would laugh. He would have cried if he had known about our bet. He said he cried there, on the corner, as they broke up, and he didn’t care who saw him. He should have known, he said. Known what? About the relationship, he said, that it wouldn’t work. What should people know, though? You can’t know until you find out.

After the breakup, directly afterwards, Tim went to a hotdog shop, where he bought a hotdog, fries and a medium sized drink from a Hispanic guy. Tim’s cell phone rang in the shop as he was waiting for his food, but he didn’t answer it. I don’t even want to know who’s calling me, he thought.

The hotdog shop was disgusting and evil, an ode to dumb men who worship rich men running around in costumes tossing balls at each other. Tim thought, what a pathetic mess this is.

Tim rounded the corner from the hotdog shop to his place, a second floor apartment in a two-flat, when he remembered that he had a movie to return, a disc he and Rema had watched concerning the flight of various birds from one place on earth to another.

A group of drunken girls walked in the opposite direction on the opposite side of the street, hanging on each other, wearing matching t-shirts, one wearing a plastic crown or, possibly, a real crown? He wanted to spit in their faces. Love, he scoffed.

Tim swore to himself as he unlocked the door to his apartment that he would never watch another movie in his life, because all movies lie. He forgot about his food and composed a letter.

Dear Motion Picture Association of America,

You’re probably thinking, who is this person? Good question, but there’s no time. Here it is: I’m a movie-watcher. I have been watching movies since I can remember. Recently, I have come to the conclusion that all movies lie. The promise of movies is transcendence of time, space, pain. Life does not deliver on any of these promises. I wish movies to end. I have not experienced your feelings, the happiness. Please stop producing these lies. They are damaging. Life is not like that. I don’t know what life is like, but it is not like that.

Tom Paine

Tim folded the letter, addressed the envelope to the Motion Picture Association of America and sent it. The hotdog was cold and so were the fries. Tim flipped on the television and caught the end of a movie about an unsolved set of murders. The movie’s plot alternated many of its scenes between two cops dedicated to solving the murders and a reporter slowly losing his mind attempting to do the same, but on his own. The excitement of the movie made Tim sad. In the movie, the FBI challenge local police over issues of jurisdiction. I will never fight anyone over jurisdiction, Tim thought, he told me later. You’re looking at my jurisdiction, he said, pointing at himself, this is it. I tried to put his feelings all together so that they made sense, but Tim refused to look. I don’t even know what was in that hotdog, he said, and I don’t care. What happens next, he asked.

Two weeks later, Tim received a letter from the Motion Picture Association of America.

Dear Mr. Paine:

I would love to reveal my identity to you, but we at the Association subsume our identity completely in service to the Association because we believe in the Association so much. Perhaps that is what happened during your relationship. Anyways, we were sorry to read your despairing remarks regarding the great art of moviemaking. We here at the Association sympathize with your feelings; it wasn’t long ago that we too felt betrayed by the art of moviemaking, feeling as if it promised more than life outside the movies could deliver. But, let me tell you something without revealing too much of myself: Everything gets better, it just does, as long as you put one foot in front of the other. Or, take up meditation. But, please do not skip your movie-going experience. It is important for your health, as has been indicated by many studies. You need to believe in something, don’t you Mr. Paine? In the absence of believing in something, you’re left to believe in nothing, which might lead you to think: Who cares if I never exist again? What if you never did exist again, Mr. Paine? But, then you wouldn’t have the pleasure of the longest lasting kiss, under the canopy of a slow fade dissolve. Do you know what life is like without movies? Movies are good because they assert, they demand, that something good exists, that good is possible. It would be a shame, Mr. Paine, if you attempted to live the rest of your life without believing this simple truth.

Thank you for your time. Please do not hesitate to contact the Motion Picture Association of America with any further thoughts or feelings.


Tim called me shortly after receiving the letter and asked me to come to his apartment. I examined the letter and made a claim for its authenticity. Tim was dubious. The style of the letter seemed too personal, he said. Was this a trick, he wondered.

A mysterious knock at the door is what happened next.

(above text by Beau Golwitzer, photo by Karl Lintvedt)

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