Heist Films

Still from Rififi by Jules Dassin

Writer’s Note: Originally published in 2012

I have an addictive personality. All of my addictions fall under the paralytic umbrella of postponing life. I have become an expert, a high scholar, at this. I’m mentally maneuvering and I’m rationally disengaging and all possible trajectories have been interrupted, each kept at an un-lived distance. This can be a very sophisticated art form, to remain forever in a state of becoming. It’s the long con, turned in on yourself. If the more subtle strategies prove ineffective, I look to the brutality of being drunk every time all of the time. In these defensive and exhaustive states, destinies are talked about rather than lived, schemes are plotted and diagramed and then incinerated before completion. Contacts are made, and some leads followed up on, followed up on because you want to look like you’re the type of person who follows up. You can keep this going infinitely, just avoid the parties where people ask what it is you do.

What it is that I’ve been doing is watching heist films. I’ve stopped the drinking and I’ve stopped the fucking and I’ve started watching all the heist films.

The internet can facilitate any number of addictions and this includes the researching, viewing, and reviewing of heist films. Early in my dependence I relied on the kindness of lists made by strangers as a starting point. Aliaskar2000, a user on IMDB who is addicted not only to heist films, but to making lists, has enthusiastically grouped heist films into subgenres. These are: the Alternative Heist, The Caper and The Pure Heist/Robbery. To these three I would reluctantly add the category of The Comedic Heist, which feels like the lowest possible filmic dose of heist. Watching the Ben Stiller film Tower Heist nearly broke my fever entirely. The Alternative Heist bears little resemblance to the “alternative” as we know it in it’s urban personality, for all its emotional and nihilistic impulses. To be considered an Alternative Heist, Akar2k might mean the film had some misplaced humor near the middle, or a boom mic hanging out in-frame. The Caper implies motion and distances travelled, deflection. This one is fun like a quick, mysterious potion. The last of these, The Pure Heist/Robbery, works on my circuits in a direct and unfiltered way. It is a lumbering stimulant with all of the requisite paraphernalia. Lumbering up my street weighed down by cash and diamonds and heavy guns, angry and scorebound. It is The Pure Heist/Robbery that crashes into me, deeply, enough to enliven the ladders on my climbing DNA and make them twist in a Saturnalian frenzy. There is full recognition of the characters as I move fearlessly with them, attaining, progressing, approaching states of non-separateness. The material world gives way to symbol, symbols give way to atoms, Mine, his, your’s, its. All things, in these high vibrational realms, are barely suspended, reaching a vantage so remote that one can turn back to see the entire drama of life playing out in time. Distant, churning stars burn blue up here, lightly touching space. A2k has set down some criteria for this subgenre of heist, which make little sense:

a. Their plots are serious and

b. Can happen in real life although sometimes they are pretty fantasy like and

c. And their story concentrates on -generally organized- theft, where we see at least one of first two acts in a satisfactory dose.

These films are consumed. Consumed, one after the other in quantities that gradually raise the blood pressure. Eating and bathing happened yesterday, today I am watching heist films. For me it is always one last heist film. This is it., I said to myself as I settled in to watch the Ocean’s films in succession, outfitted with a Sprite and some crumbling hash. Once I do this thing, I’m getting out. I’m too old, too tired for this, this heist film thing. Maybe after a long break, I’ll come back to films. When my nerves have calmed I’ll watch some Bergman. I haven’t seen Persona in a while. Now that’s a great film, very little theft.

I look into the situation with the rabid awareness of an overfed and underworked man of his generation, a generation that is simultaneously hysteric and paralyzed. We are consumed with our inner selves in relation to the world around us. We say unconsciously: How can I arrange it so that I am the absolute manifestation of this age, a barometer of perfection? This generation, as it invites all things into itself, expects itself to be all things. This is an order that is impossibly fulfilled.

The heist film thing. The situation of the heist films, It’s not just me, its everyone else and me. It’s only jobs, romances and taking care of children that keep everyone from watching heist films in continuum. The heist films speak to persons rendered immobile by the manifold possibilities of life. The heist films move along with you, like a partner in crime. They find your own particular rhythms and settle out what ambitions you may have in you at the time, like a miner’s sieve.

The inclusionists, those of us without boundaries. You. You’ve meandered through your twenties, falling in love with everything at once, leaving behind half-picked up passions (leathercraft, photography, photography) and…you keep falling in love. You’ve projected a million partially dreamt apartments and shelved identities and still your feet have stayed on the ground, or worse, in the mud. Now here you are, stuck between this far glacial field of Icelandic(the unknown totality) black(dirt) and white(snow).

In the heist film there is a goal. The goal is nearly always material, but material is a stand-in for purpose, destiny. What starts out as dreamstuff becomes manifest through hard work. Plan the thing, do the thing. This is the alchemy of action. In the heist films we see that somewhere out there someone is doing something. In the heist films, they are resolving something to completion, working through to the material plane and taking home the loot. Roll the credits, look for another heist film. We watch in admiration at the ease in which all this is done and see our own heavenly projections being burnt up by talking about them or scribbling them away into neat notebooks, concerned less about the doing than the style of the doing. Do you want to be a sculptor, or do you want to coax into perfection over long periods the idea of someone who sculpts? Before the identity is carved out, we drop our chisels and go searching for even more obscure whiskey and trendsetting. In the heist films, they are not exposing the process as it moves forward. They keep their mouths shut and do the thing. They don’t have the luxury of babbling their dreams away to a stranger over vatted malts. All of the energy goes into the doing. No self-criticism, no hyper-awareness, just do the thing. The doers know better and there are only doers in the heist films. We see them and we learn how its done. Still watching, still learning, $176 dollars in my bank account.

For now, like one of the characters says in Heat: “All I am is what I’m going after,” and I’m going after more heist films. I’m in the process, in the situation, doing the thing, the heist film thing, doing it for now. I’ll run out of films eventually, and then what? Do something. Steal something. Art thief.