Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow: Too Much Game, not Enough Life




By Gabrielle Zevin

Alfred A Knopf, 398 pages.





I enjoyed The Life of A. J. Fikry, but was less enthralled by Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, the latest novel from Gabrielle Zevin. I found Zevin’s characters quite memorable, but a lot of the book deals with America’s favorite anesthetic pursuit: video games. That’s not a habit I ever acquired.  Ironically, I’d rather chill with a great novel rather than read one about video games. Credit to Zevin, though. She’s a gamer, but deftly avoids romanticism; her four central characters are damaged goods.


Sam Masur/Mazer is socially awkward and you can take your pick if that’s because he’s on the spectrum, was traumatized his mother’s death in an accident in which he suffered permanent injuries, has suffered discrimination for being half Asian, or some combination of the three. Sam has mobility issues, so it’s hardly surprising that he became an early adoptee of video games.


Sam’s best friend from age 12 on is Sadie Green, who grew up with a hazy sense of noblesse oblige. You can imagine the strain when Sam learns he was Sadie’s bat mitzvah “project.” Power dynamics shift in unpredictable and volatile ways. Sam and Sadie love each other, but they frequently don’t like each other.


Though estranged, both are brilliant. Sadie goes to M.I.T. and he to Harvard, where he displaces Sadie with a new best friend, Marx Wetanabe. He is easy-going, filthy rich, and becomes the middleman in a video game venture that will also involve Sadie.  Her educational career was more fraught than that of Sam and Marx. She becomes interested in gaming via an egotistical and verbally abusive professor, Dov. Yet they become lovers, despite his complicated domestic ties.


Think of Sam, Marx, and Sadie as pulses in electronic and emotional nodes. With Marx as an underwriter Sam and Sadie are legendary and raking in royalties before they are 25. If only egos could be programmed and pain and tragedy could be replayed. In this sense, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is an ironic title. Much depends on things that can and cannot be undone.


For me, the interplay between the characters is the most interesting part of the novel. Personal and professional crises unfold around the various games that Sam and Sadie develop. The games work well, but issues such as jealousy, intellectual property rights, domestic arrangements, and business decisions are harder to resolve. Soon, a lot of what passes for “communication” is encoded in games, forums, and dummy accounts. That’s not ideal. That little thing called “real life” has a way of not really caring about games, rivalry, or cleverness.  


Zevin cleverly parallels moods and situations with games in development whose titles–Ichigo, Both Sides, Counterpoint High, Maple World, The Scottish Expansion, Our Infinite Days, Pioneers–sound like they’re all over the map. That’s because they reveal the changing mindsets and tribulations of their creators. Marx commented, “What is a game? It’s tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. It’s the possibility of infinite rebirth, infinite redemption, the idea that if you keep playing, you could win. No loss is permanent, because nothing is permanent, ever.”


Of course, life isn’t really a game and Marx’s assertion is only partially true. Win or lose is a binary without nuance. If you hit 30 and you’re no longer a few kids mucking around on computers, own a company, have employees, suffer a cash flow problem, and a big conglomerate wants to buy you, do you keep the faith? Take the money? Surrender creative control? Give up being an underground hero? Count the victims before you get your act together?


One could call the novel a 400-page debate over a single question: Which is better, the real or the unreal? An offshoot is whether we ever reach an age in which we stop asking that kind of question. As much as I admired Zevin’s character depth and her juxtaposition of outward success and inner turmoil, I grew tired of the video game hook. I get that Zevin wanted to fuse the unreal/real split to drive home how the barriers between them are leaky. Still, it felt depersonalizing to give equal depth to humans and game content. I also don’t believe humans can resolve their neuroses virtually. I’m certain, though, that Zevin overplayed the humans as joysticks angle.


Rob Weir


Wanda a Tough Film and Sociology Lesson


WANDA (1970; Restored 2019)

Directed and written by Barbara Loden

Bardene International Films, 103 minutes, R (nudity, language)





Wanda is a Criterion Collection film that’s a slice of past sociology. It’s also cinema verité done in an unadorned style that drew comparisons to Andy Warhol films, and Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960). It allegedly influenced Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). A Godard analogy is overblown and I’d have to rewatch Ackerman’s film to comment on that, but director/writer Barbara Loden took me back in time–not just to 1970, but to the area where it was filmed.


Loden’s probably isn’t a familiar name. She was an actress, though best known as the wife of auteur Elia Kazan. I mention Kazan because gender is under the microscope in Wanda. Despite the spreading impact of second-wave feminism, it had not yet deeply penetrated American society. In vast swaths of society older gender expectations remained firmly in place. That is, women were expected to shoulder domestic duties, provide sexual release for men, and conform to roles as the “weaker” sex.


Loden’s film centered on such a place: the coal mining region of Northeast Pennsylvania in and around Scranton. This was not the part of Pennsylvania from which I hail, but I know it well and can attest that, in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a dire place, especially for working-class families. Think slag heaps rising in backyards, run-down housing, dirty motels, people fossicking for coal lumps to heat their homes, beaten down residents, Catholic churches, and dive bars. (Brass-and-fern “pubs need not apply!) It was also home to men who felt entitled to a shag, even when it constituted rape.


Wanda (Loden) simply isn’t competent to cope with many aspects of her life. She wanders the coal fields with her hair in curlers, has casual sex with men of all ages and number of teeth, isn’t very smart, and is not cut out to be a wife and the mother of two children. She’s late to her own divorce hearing and when the judge asks her if she’s contesting the divorce just shrugs and says the kids would be better off with her husband. A later scene establishes that she has trouble reading at what we might consider a 3rd or 4th grade level.


With no home or ability to hold down a job, Wanda does what she’s always done–find someone who will treat her (a relative term!) until he turns violent, and then find another. After her divorce she wanders off with little more than the clothes on her back and some money she bummed. After a time, she inadvertently connects with “Mr. Dennis (Michael Higgins),” a robber and nobody’s idea of Mr. Congeniality. He’s happy to screw Wanda and use her like a servant, but conversation or tenderness are off the table. One reason for the Godard comparison is the wild and fated road trip they take together. Film scholar Amy Taubin speculated that part of the film’s allure is that it took the sheen off of Bonnie and Clyde, a glamorized look at a crime couple on the lam. If that was Loden’s intent, she accomplished it in spades.


Wanda was made on a shoestring budget–a reported $115,000–and looks it. There is no musical soundtrack, the acting is sometimes stilted, colors are drab, and the entire project was shot in 16mm before being restored and transferred to 35 mm just a few years ago. For all of that, it’s hard to imagine that Loden could have better captured the world of 1970 from the point of view of desperate people looking for hope in a heartless environment. It is indeed cinema verité; Scranton was really that bad and Holy Land in Waterbury, Connecticut was as weird as it looks. Don’t bother searching IMDB for the secondary characters. Some were plucked from the streets and others were one-take minor actors.


Wanda wasn’t widely seen in its day. It got mixed reviews, though it did capture a major prize at a 1970 Venice film festival. It nearly disappeared altogether when a California film archive closed, but a 2010 MoMA showing in New York led to reassessment. My take is that it’s no Godard but is better than most of Warhol’s movies. It’s dated and, for good and ill, shares little in common with slick Hollywood offerings. But you sure can peel away a lot of social history by watching it now.


Rob Weir


Whisky Galore Will Test Your Hearing but Tickle Your Funny Bone



Directed by Alexander Mckendrick

Ealing Studios, 82 minutes, Not-rated





Ealing Studios is a legendary movie production facility on the outskirts of London. In the 1940s and 1950s it was renowned for cranking out comedies, several of which are considered groundbreaking in Britain. Whisky Galore was an early effort and, if you can work out the Scots dialect and have no problem with some good-natured stereotyping, remains a delightful way to while away a short part of an evening.


It was directed by Alexander Mackendrick and its script was penned by Compton Mackenzie, based on his 1947 novelization of an actual event. (Mackenzie also got a minor role in the film.) In real life, the S. S. Politician ran aground near the Scottish islands of Eriskay and Barra in 1941, laden with 21,000 cases of whisky. Islanders plundered the ship and 19 got short jail sentences for avoiding excise taxes. (Most got off, ahem, scot-free.) If that’s not the setup for a comedy, I don’t what is!


The islands were renamed Great and Little Todday for the film, and most of the filming was done during miserable weather on Barra. You’ll hear snippets of Scots Gaelic; Barra is indeed a place where Gaelic is spoken alongside English. The movie boat is rechristened the S. S. Cabinet Minister and its cargo upgraded to 55,000 cases of uisge beatha (literally water of life, aka/whisky). Good comedies take liberties and this one is no exception. As we tune in, islanders are mired in deep depression. It’s 1943 and, horror of horrors, the whisky has run out, rationing is in place, and no shipments are looming on the horizon. Until, of course, a fortuitous shipwreck makes relief but a salvage effort away.


Several problems loom, though. First, just as the villagers prepare to sail in the near-daylight conditions of a northern summer, the clock strikes midnight and they turn back. It’s one thing to steal cargo, but it would be a mortal sin to blow off mass and do so on the Sabbath! Oh! the disconsolate faces. Second, Britain had something called the Home Guard during the war, basically a citizen militia headed by older veterans like Captain Paul Waggett (Basil Radford), a teetotaler and all-around by-the-books spoilsport. He even posts Sergeant Odd (Bruce Seaton), who is on leave, to “enforce” his command banning islanders from boarding the boat.


You can imagine how that edict will stand. Surrealistic comedy and plot twists abound. The latter include a dour mother (Jean Cadell) who henpecks her courage-challenged son George Campbell (Gordon Jackson), two sisters being courted simultaneously (Gabrielle Blunt and a very young Joan Greenwood), a besotted betrothal ceremony (a rèiteach if you want to practice your Gaelic), and several wild goose chases worthy of the Keystone Cops.  Being that this is Scotland, you can also anticipate that respectability is a soft target for satire.  


A major joy of this film, which comes across even if you struggle with the Scots brogue, is its proliferation of eccentric characters. As is often the case in British/Scottish/Irish films, those parts often went to talented actors given leave to chew some scenery. Cadell’s imperious widow Campbell is in one such role, but there’s also The Biffer (one who throws punches real and metaphorical) played by Morland Graham, loads of inept authority figures, and the delightful turn of James Robertson Justice as a doctor who dispenses the kind of medical advice that we wish all doctors would prescribe. Seton’s Sergeant Odd also lives up to his name.


Yes, the movie does stereotype Scots as the sort who would anything to secure a glass of whisky. And, yes again, to whether the comedy is broad as well as surreal. I reiterate that you might miss some of the funny lines, but even if you only understand half of it, you’ll rise from your chair with a smile upon you lips.


Rob Weir


Note: If you wonder why Gordon Jackson looks familiar, he later achieved instant fame as butler Angus Hudson in the surprise TV hit Upstairs, Downstairs. Joan Greenwood was a well-known movie and TV actress who won even greater acclaim in British theatre. Radford was also in The Lady Vanishes. For the record, scot-free has nothing to do with Scottish people; it comes from a Middle English term that meant exempt from royal taxes.