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  • "The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard." Katha-Upanishad

    I finally got around to seeing the 1946 film version of “The Razor’s Edge” last night. There were some corny patches, but all in all I thought it was a good adaption, especially since I’d always thought W. Somerset Maugham’s novel to be film-proof (I also haven’t seen the1984 Bill Murray version). Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney were both known more for looking good than acting well, but they managed to rise to the occasion this time.

    Maugham has fallen far out of fashion these days, which may be one of the reasons why I continue to love him resolutely. When I devour his writings, I don’t feel myself reading but listening to a charming and vastly entertaining old friend holding forth from a plush club chair. The first story I posted on Cowbird, “Caught,” is an homage to Maugham.

    The plot of “The Razor’s Edge” is simple. A young man, Larry Darrell, returns home from WWI haunted by what he’s seen. He’s engaged to a wealthy young woman who expects him to live up to the expectations of her social set. To her horror, he tells her instead that he’d like to “loaf” for a while, pursue knowledge, happiness and meaning. He travels to Europe and lives among the destitute, then journeys to India to study under a great religious teacher (the guru in the film is played by a white Englishman. Sigh) and eventually winds up back in the United States with a new purpose in life. There are lots of tangled relationships and drama in between, but that’s basically the story.

    It’s one of my very favorite books. I believe “The Razor’s Edge,” like “Don Quixote,” should ideally be read three times in life. The first time should be in your 20s, when the idea of living the life you want to live rather than that others intend for you might resonate strongly. The second time, in your forties, might trigger a course correction. Are Larry’s ideals those of a secular saint or does his single-minded pursuit of life’s meaning bring only grief to those he claims to love? How about your own ideals at this time of your life? Have you sold out but paper over it by calling it “being realistic?” What would you want to change besides your ever-mounting excuses? Or is everything totally fine as is? I was going to label the third time, in your 60s, as a “summing up,” but having attained that ripe old age, I find myself more eager to set out upon the royal road to knowledge and adventure than I’ve been in many, many years. I have no idea what I will uncover, but I do know that Larry Darrell will accompany me.

    Image source: 20th Century Fox
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