Of all the gin joints

Mind the Gap

olivia-jerram

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Sophie Parsons speaks predominantly in movie quotes. When she isn’t saying things out of a film, she addresses me as if I’m in one myself.

When I met Sophie, she seemed out of my league. I watched her out of the corner of my eye when we sat next to each other during the physics lecture we both went to — she was fashionable, she scribbled in her notebook in a way that made her seem brilliant in a messy sort of way, she laughed in a way that made me want to laugh with her.

One morning when the professor walked in, she muttered under her breath, “Rick, hide me! Do something! You must help me, Rick!” I pretended to understand what she’d meant, then asked her what the name of the guy sitting next to us was, just to make sure it wasn’t Rick. It was Zeke.

Rick refers to Rick Blaine from “Casablanca.” “Casablanca” is one of Sophie’s favorite films.

Eventually Sophie figured out I had never seen before; she was indignant — “We’ll fix that.”

We walked out of our lecture together one morning weeks later, both heading to buy coffee. I made a joke about the equations we’d just learned and, giggling, she retorted, “Oh do shut up, Portia.”

I paused, startled. She smiled — “Don’t worry, I’m only teasing. It’s from ‘A Fish Called Wanda.’ ”

It took me a few months to figure out that a lot of the things Sophie said were not things she made up. We watched “Snatch” together, sitting criss-cross on her bed, still in our Converses, bed sheets bunched up behind us, a chaos of lipsticks and sweaters strewn over the desk in front of us, the laptop balanced on a stack of physics textbooks.

As the movie played, I heard Sophie-isms everywhere. Except they weren’t Sophie-isms, of course.

I think then I asked her about it — somewhat shyly, she smiled. She started to explain it to me, then interrupted herself to speak Avi’s dialogue alongside the character — “Yes, London. You know, fish, chips, cup ‘o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary fucking Poppins, London.” She grinned at my surprise.

Then she explained how much she loved the movies she quoted — movies, I told her, I hadn’t seen. So we concocted a strategy: She would cite every quote she used, and then we would watch all the movies, and then I would be caught up.

The next day, in class: “Is there some reason why my coffee isn’t here? Did she die or something? — ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’ ” At lunch: “I didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition — ‘Monty Python.’ ” In the dining hall, for dinner: “You can’t sit with us — ‘Mean Girls.’ ” Walking home: “I’m shocked, shocked to hear that — ‘Casablanca.’ ”

“I still haven’t seen that one,” I reminded her.

It took us a little bit over a year to sit down and actually watch “Casablanca” together. And in all honesty, as much as I liked the movie, I wasn’t head-over-heels in love with it — a year of build-up from an avid fan can do that to a film.

What I like about “Casablanca” really has very little to do with the actual film. It isn’t the plots or the sets or even the dialogue —  it’s that I can use it as a timestamp on a relationship, remembering the way we drew out the process of watching it, letting me remind her over and over again while she promised we would get to it.

I hear her saying, “We’ll fix that,” in my ear while we walk to our class together, having just met. We’re sitting together on a bench with Corrie, becoming friends, then sitting with Ashley in the kitchen of our new apartment, gesturing at the heater with our spoons, mouths full of Fentons’ “Coffee Cookie Dream” ice cream, naming it Humphrey — “We’ll fix that.”

When I think about it like that — our friendship spread out in front of me all at once — I feel so happy, it makes me a little bit woozy. But I don’t often think about the way she’s changed how I think about movies.

For Sophie, the world stacks up as a rolling reel of film clips — every movie is a source of advice. For me, before Sophie, movies existed at the fringes of my days. I watched movies a few times during a month; I talked about them occasionally, rarely wrote about them, recommended them to people even less.

But the way Sophie sees everything in her life — in my life — in relation to films, makes me want to see it that way too, lensed with a sort of magical nostalgia. I appreciate the way she looks at the world as much as I’m glad she’s a part of mine.

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine. — ‘Casablanca.’ ”

Olivia Jerram writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on experiencing art through other people. Contact her at [email protected].

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