Bennett Miller’s “The Cruise”

While reading our essays for class, I kept coming back to this film I had watched in a documentary class. It was called “The Cruise,” and it was the most hilariously eccentric portrait of a man living in the city. The man is Timothy “Speed” Levitch and he has a LOT to say. And many of his historical quips and musings correspond with the terms and ideas that Simmel and de Certeau write about.

Simmel writes about individuality and the eccentric in his essay “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” and about how one’s “extremities and peculiarities and individualizations must be produced and they must be over-exaggerated merely to be brought into the awareness” (Simmel 110). Timothy “Speed” Levitch is that eccentric. He is an amazing example of the city eccentric when he states in minute 50 of the film, “I don’t care if [individualism] is a delusion. I don’t care if I have the same infrastructure as plants. I want to be the plant that grows the highest. I want to be the bean stalk. I want to be the flower that smells most profusely, that veers most drastically towards the sunlight.” He wants to be the one that stands out the most. As he says this, he is walking through central park among many other people, him standing out to us the most.

“Speed” Levitch also talks about the planned city like de Certeau does. De Certeau states the planned city, “is a differentiation and redistribution of the parts and functions of the city, as a result of inversions, displacements, accumulations, etc…there is [also] a rejection of everything that is not capable of being dealt with in this way” (de Certeau 113). “Speed” talks about the grid system just as de Certeau critiques planned cities: “The grid plan emanates from our weaknesses…to me the grid plan is puritan, it’s homogenizing in a city where there is no homogenization available. There is only total existence, total cacophony, a total flooring of human ethnicities and tribes and beings from gradations of awareness and conscienceness.” (Miller 39). He believes that the gird plan is forcing us to act and move in one certain way and humans were not meant to be moving in right angles all of our lives. “Speed” is a desired-path type of guy.

One major aspect of “The Cruise” is Timothy “Speed” Levitch’s relationship with the New York’s architecture. “Speed” is always shown on street-level, with buildings towering over him and engulfing him (and a great scene when he spins around between the twin towers until he gets dizzy and looks up so it seems that the towers are falling in on him). His “cruising” dialogue about the Empire state building relays his feelings of inadequacies towards the structure: “If architecture is the history of all phallic emotions, the Empire State Building is utter catharsis. And we are sitting in its silhouette” (Miller 24). Another scene, he caresses one building like he is in love with it and states that he is most happy when he and the bridge are one. It is almost in contrast to seeming like a little ant, but he somehow seems to become larger than life by living under these towering structures.

Here is a link to watch the full film online

Miller, Bennett. The Cruise.  Lions Gate Home Entertainment, 1998. DVD.

Simmel, Georg, “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” The Blackwell City Reader. 2nd ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

De Certeau, Michel “The Practice of Everyday Life.” The Blackwell City Reader. 2nd ed. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

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5 Comments

Filed under City Cultures

5 responses to “Bennett Miller’s “The Cruise”

  1. Shockingly, I have not seen this movie. You make a really good case for it connecting to the themes of the class, though. What kind of argument does the movie make about Levitch’s role within the city? Does his resistance have an effect on the planned city? I’m thinking about the common complaint from people who have lived in New York for a while that the city has become more homogenized and planned. Can eccentricity restore a city’s energy?

    • marximusvance

      You really should check it out. His effect on the city is very minimal as his points out himself. He wants all the customers on his cruises to come out as changed poeple, people that have seen the city in a whole new persepective. He says they really never do fully, but he still expects it from them. I, however, did see where he was getting at, and I would guess that if the entire population of New York had seen the film, the city could change in a dramatic way.

  2. righteousmyer

    This seems like a really cool documentary. Was the premise of the documentary just this guys life or just his tours throughout the city?
    I think it’s a really cool idea to give a tour like that. I like how instead of boring the audience with numerous facts and locations, he has a more salient and insightful narration of the city. The bit about the Empire State Building being the “utter catharsis” of phallic emotions I thought was really interesting. It’s the kind of Freudian critique that seems to crop up in almost everything if you allow it. It’s somewhat like “The Number 23” with Jim Carrey; if you look for it, you’ll see it. Granted, the Empire State Building is a little less subtle..

  3. thepurplegg

    Speed is someone I’ve thought about in this class as well. I like that you compared his hate of the grid system to the planned city. This film was the first I had seen someone hate it so much, but the readings for class have shown me that it is not something new. I remember that he was also not fond of regulations. He was always trying to get onto higher buildings, most of which he was not supposed to be on, just to get a better view of the world. He had been before setting off the alarm to get to the roof of buildings, and the film even ends on another quest to get to the rood.

  4. I’m going to watch this movie soon. I hope you’ll check out Waking Life if you haven’t seen it yet. In Waking Life, Speed Levitch says, “Our eyesight is here as a test to see if we can see beyond it.” That reminds me of the street-level view versus birds-eye view–even as Speed traverses the city, dwarfed by the skyscrapers, he has an elevated perspective. Dreamers like Levitch reject grids and regulations, but if there were no grids or regulations, would dreamers dream so intensely? Would their moments of self-realization be as poignant? If there were no drab concrete walls, where would graffiti artists create their murals? Without paths of government-mandated concrete, desire paths cannot exist. The grids, the regulations, and the street-level view can be alienating, but as Levitch says in Waking Life, “This entire thing we are involved with called ‘The World’ is an opportunity to exhibit how exciting alienation can be.”

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