In the short story Drive My Car, from the collection Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami, it is said that acting involves leaving who one was for a brief time, but that the self that one is returning to is never exactly the same as the self that one had left behind. Through the lens of the protagonist, we are challenged to consider whether we are all actors. What is the difference between pretending to be or feel something and truly doing it? If the difference is the intention to pretend, is that a bad thing? What happens when the lines blur and pretending to be something you are not leads to actually becoming that thing?
This is a story about a man who needs to hire a driver to get him to various work obligations because he lost his license. It is a story about an aging actor who lost his wife to sickness, a wife that had several secret affairs over the years, affairs that the man knew about but his wife didn’t realize he did. It is a story about how that man befriended one of his wife’s lovers after her death by acting like he genuinely wanted to share stories when really he wanted to find out what his wife saw in him.
There are a lot of layers to this short vignette of a story, so much so that it inspired a 2021 feature film that is meant to be pretty good.
“So were you real friends? Or was it all just acting?” Kafuku thought for a while. “It was both. It’s gotten so I have a hard time drawing a clear line between the two. In the end, that’s what serious acting is all about.”
Ultimately, this is a story about a man finding a small amount of peace in the fact that there are some things we’ll never know about each other.
But the proposition that we can look into another person’s heart with perfect clarity strikes me as a fool’s game. I don’t care how well we think we should understand them, or how much we love them. All it can do is cause us pain. Examining your own heart, however, is another matter. I think it’s possible to see what’s in there if you work hard enough at it. So in the end maybe that’s the challenge: to look inside your own heart as perceptively and seriously as you can, and to make peace with what you find there. If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking within ourselves.”
I’m a few stories in now and am really enjoying this collection by Murakami. The writing here is like the shifting of gears described in this last passage of Drive My Car: smooth and mysterious.
Kafuku settled back in the leather seat, closed his eyes, and tried to focus his mind on the sound of the engine when Misaki shifted gears. But he couldn’t catch the precise moment. It was all too smooth, too mysterious. He could only make out a slight gradation in the engine’s hum. It was like the wings of a flying insect, now drawing closer, now fading away.