Nora Ephron

The night Nora Ephron died, I found my wife weeping in bed. “Why are you crying?” I asked gently. I had known Nora a little for about a decade, but we were never close, and my wife only met her once, briefly. “Her movies belonged to me,” she said, simply. “They’re bound up with my life.” I knew exactly what she meant.


01 de julho de 2012 | 03h00

When Nora succumbed last week to the pneumonia that was a complication of the leukemia she has been battling for several years, it seemed that a part of the culture went with her. Talking to her and her husband, Nick Pileggi, at various parties over the years, you realized that you were chatting with two people who, between them, were responsible for shaping about half the American consciousness. The movies Nora had written­-or co-written with her sister, Delia-weren’t just entertainments. They became additions to the reality they so piercingly commented on and satirized. “Heartburn,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail”-these immortal films of Nora’s actually influenced the way people talked to and related to each other. You took a woman out for a date and, before you knew it, the two of you were doing Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally.” You fought with your wife or girlfriend (or if you were really unlucky, with one about the other), and suddenly you heard yourself souding like a petty, enraged Jack Nicholson in “Heartburn.”

If you were a male, you were especially influenced by Nick Pileggi’s films: “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “City Hall.” In the back of every wounded male ego is the beckoning abyss of Joe Pesci flying into a violent tantrum in “Goodfellas,” while in the forefront of every American male’s ideal fantasy of himself is Robert De Niro’s tough-guy sang froid and beleaguered poise in “Casino.” Nick was Nora’s fellow incandescent Spirit.

You learn in school that the three great shapers of modern civilization were Freud, Darwin and Marx. That is nonsense. Ever since the invention of the movie camera, our lives have been molded by stories on celluloid. In the same way, I imagine, the average ancient Greek was more influenced by Homer’s tales than by Plato’s ideas. And even Plato knew about the superiority of tales to concepts. That’s why he presented his most important conceptd in the form of a parable.

Of course, not every cinematic story deserves to affect the way people see themselves and the world around them. One of the things I loved about Nora was that she was the anti-Woody Allen. Both are Jewish writers who cover the same territory of modern, urban, America: of romantic relationships complicated by ego; of all the modern conveniences sooner or later falling into the category of timeless obstacles to happiness. But while Allen’s charcters all inhabited-or might well have inhabited-the same Upper East Side neighborhood, Nora expanded her fictional universe to include other American worlds. And where Nora’s characters were idiosyncratic, Allen’s were, and are, merely neurotic. Allen’s characters could take a drug and modify their behavior. Nora’s characters are, as we all fundamentally are, permanently themselves.

Finally, there was the matter of sex. As a certified Jewish male, I should have identified with Allen’s male Jewish characters in their endlessly comic pursuit of carnal joy. Instead, with the exception of a hormone-addled span of time between 13 and 19, I’ve been repulsed by them. Allen belongs to that generation of Jewish intellectuals and writers-Philip Roth first among them-who write about sex as Crisis, Dilemman or Engima. But for the greatest artists, sex is just one more experience on a continuum of experience. Give me “Don Giovanni,” for heavens’ sake, not Roth’s and Allen’s phallic-driven eternal adolescents. In Nora’s greatest films, sex takes it place alongside the other primal experiences of life. She is even, unlike Allen, able to write about love as a separate experience than sex. After all, the whole point of Meg Ryan’s sublimely comic public simulation of orgasm in“When Harry Met Sally” is that sex is never just about sex.

Nora herself, so far as I knew her, was humane, full of fun, unfailingly proper without being in any sense stiff or prohibitive. She is being celebrated for being a fiercely loyal friend, and she was clearly that, but she also cherished the practical fruits of harmonious relations with as many others as she could fit into her life. The last time I saw her, at yet another party, we spoke about my and my wife’s new daughter, and she began to talk affectionately about her own father, speaking with delicate causticness about the foolish male ego. That might have been some subtle reference to the fact that I had written caustically, without the slightest delicacy, about some of her famous friends as a critic. I made some sort of stab at oblique apology, blathering on about how I was too uninhibited to be considered a true intellectual. Her eyes sparkled but she kept a tactful, even empathetic, silence that was itself a kind of pardon. I can only imagine what she might have, or could have said in reply, but that is a story only she could have told well.

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