`I don't like movies, because they bring things up too close,'' says Macon Leary in Anne Tyler's novel, ``The Accidental Tourist.'' But Lawrence Kasdan's film adaptation, up for four Oscar nominations at the Academy Awards ceremony tomorrow, has done exactly that. The story of the reluctant travel-guide author who hates traveling, fears the love of the dog trainer Muriel, and tries, in general, to ``slip through life unchanged'' might seem unlikely material for a Hollywood movie.
William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, who played torrid love scenes in their other Kasdan film, ``Body Heat,'' might seem odd choices for the quiet, estranged married couple. And Kasdan himself, the writer of epics like ``Raiders of the Lost Ark'' and director of vivid offbeat stories like ``Silverado'' and ``The Big Chill,'' might be an unexpected choice for this essentially chamber drama, whose artistry is so tightly buttoned beneath its vest.
So be it. Kasdan, Turner, and Hurt are, themselves, unexpected and contradictory in many ways. During interviews with this trio, Turner is slim and bright and a bit brassy. Snug in her bright red skirt and blouse, she moves like an elegant skiff under a scarlet sail before a spanking breeze. There behind her is Lawrence Kasdan, slouching in the doorway, eyes downcast, rumpled shirt hanging becalmed over anonymous dark wash pants. He is short and compact; whether sitting or standing, he always seems to be at an incline.
Meanwhile, moving across the room is William Hurt. He has the uncommon ability to preside effortlessly over any occasion. He slips across your view, as someone once said about the young John Barrymore, like a paper knife. His features always seem to be changing. But you wonder at that because his expression is deceptively open and bland, like a smooth wax mold waiting for any chance imprint.
Hurt sees paradoxes everywhere, and he loves them. ``Take Macon's fear of movies,'' he says. ``I can understand his problem quite easily. Movies are audacious to the extent that they are intimate. You see? Depending, of course, on how far with the intimacy the filmmaker wants to go. Now, Macon is afraid of intimacy; it causes him to feel too much, to have to deal with himself and his weird past. But intimacy is his only hope to be free. That's where Muriel [the dog trainer played by Geena Davis] comes in. She is all of that, someone close up, intense, full of a frightening kind of hope.''
Hurt's own desire for privacy away from invasive cameras is notorious. And yet, as Kasdan knows better than anyone, Hurt willingly submits to the merciless invasion of the movie camera. He becomes in ``Accidental Tourist'' the terrain for the close-up reconnaissance lens. Every feature, every tiny wrinkle, every pore is seized, examined. I think that not since Carl Dreyer's ``The Passion of Joan of Arc'' (1928) has an actor been subjected to such a prolonged stare. Far from this being an intrusion, for Hurt it becomes the reverse, allowing him to penetrate the space of others, while at the same time remaining inviolate.
``Film is an aggressive art, isn't it?'' notes Kasdan, settling himself onto the couch beside Hurt. ``You go to it as an escape. But it takes you, instead, closer to things. I don't think it allows you to avoid anything at all. You can't even choose what to see and what not to see. The filmmakers do that.''
Kathleen Turner breezes in, breaking the mood. They chat together about travel schedules, culinary items, and gossip. By the time they return to the subject of ``Accidental Tourist,'' you feel it is just one more bit of casual conversation - hardly an eccentric multi-million-dollar property that needs special handling, and perhaps the boost an Oscar win can give to box-office appeal, if it is to recoup its investment.
``It's not what you think, being back together with Larry and Bill,'' Turner breathes in that husky rasp. ``No, all of Larry's films are different; so you don't feel like you're doing things all over again. It's not like `Body Heat,' which is what everybody expects. Larry ... sets a different precedent every time.''
``That's at least a consistency, isn't it?'' William Hurt interjects.
``Yes,'' Kasdan says. ``I do believe in an art that hides itself, one where there may be enormous craft and thought but which ... eventually disappears, seamless.''
Precisely because Macon Leary fears movies, the medium is the perfect vehicle for his story. You leave the theater after watching ``The Accidental Tourist'' as you leave these interviews - baffled, unsure of what you've seen, or didn't see. You come out of the theater's darkness into the light feeling like Macon does when he looks out his airplane window at 20,000 feet. There is blazing sun where the nighttime sky had been just an hour before. For one mad moment Macon thinks the dawn out there is something staged just for him, an illusion painted on a curtain, ``superimposed upon the real dark.''
Maybe Kasdan's silver screen is like that for us, another magic curtain hanging out there in the dark.