I pressed play and the movie began.
It had been a long day at the office and watching a movie sounded just about perfect right now. The boss had been on my case about a mistake during inventory. I had miscounted or added an extra zero when filling in the spreadsheet. Either way, as a result of a mistake I made, we had an extra ten cases of eggs than we needed. Eggs sell, I told my boss. Eggs always sell. There was no need to be mean about it. It was an honest mistake, one that anybody could have made, especially if they were having as rough a go at life as I was currently having. No bites on the dating apps, no money in the bank account and some kind of pollen floating in the air that made my head spin whenever I spent any real time outside.
I needed something to take my mind off what was going on at work and what wasn’t going on in my personal life. I needed a movie. I booted up Netflix on my Playstation 4 but there was nothing interesting that grabbed my attention - just the same fake-ass reality television and pointless sitcom garbage clogging up the service since I quit paying for my subscription two years ago. If my sister decided to change her password and I was kicked off her account, I wasn’t even going to bother asking for her new password. Netflix was dead. Amazon Prime had the same trash horror and boring big budget Hollywood garbage that it always had. Where was the originality? Where were the new ideas?
I thought about giving up and masturbating but my favorite sites hadn’t updated any new pics in over three weeks and I was getting tired of looking at the same girls every night. I needed something new, something exciting.
A week ago a friend had sent me a link to a website that promised free downloads of real, underground films; the kind of stuff that was so new it wasn’t even in theaters yet. The guy was constantly getting viruses on his laptop from downloading crap so I hadn’t bothered trying to look for anything from the site yet but desperate times of boredom call for desperate measures and my virus protection plan was up-to-date. Hit me with your best shot, internet viruses.
I found the link in my Facebook Messager inbox and clicked it. FREE STREAMING MOVIES, the website promised. RARE AND UNUSUAL was in smaller, flashing text. I scrolled through the first few titles: SUSAN, JACK, NICK, DIEGO, TINA - all the movies were just names. JACK, I think, was a Robin Williams movie from the ‘90s about a kid who looked like an old man but I didn’t recognize any of the other titles. I was about to click TINA, hoping it was porn, when a title caught my attention. ROBERT. My name. I always liked my name, it was a good name. I felt like watching a movie that shared my name. I clicked ROBERT and the download began.
In only ten minutes the file had finished and the film was ready to watch. I lay on the couch, my laptop sitting on my chest, and started up the movie.
I couldn’t tell what I was watching at first. Everything on the screen was pink and slimy, it was kind of gross to be honest. A bright light filled the screen and suddenly there was the sound of a baby crying. It was so loud I was afraid my neighbors were going to start banging on my wall so I reached to my coffee table and grabbed a pair of headphones and plugged them into my laptop. With the headphones on, I could really hear the movie’s sound even better. Underneath the baby’s screams, there was a rhythmic tip-tip-tip, like a heartbeat. On screen, the bright light started to defuse a bit and I could start to make out shapes in the room. There was a shape like a person and they were saying something, but their voice was muffled a bit and I couldn’t really understand what they were saying. The shape of a woman lay on a bed and her voice, while also muffled, was soft and comforting. It reminded me of something I couldn’t quite place, something pleasant.
What a weird ass movie, I thought. I was starting to get the idea of what I was looking at: It was a baby who had just been born, but told from the perspective of the baby. I didn’t usually go for that artistic crap but there was something curious about the movie and how slowly it took to tell whatever story it was trying to tell that made me keep watching. Over time, the images on screen became slightly less fuzzy and I could start to make out things clearer. I could see the nurses and the doctors as they fussed over the baby and, once the baby had stopped crying nonstop, I could begin to make out the voices from the people in the delivery room.
I glanced at my phone and realized I had been watching the movie for 20 minutes and nothing really had happened. Was this just somebody’s home footage from a delivery room? I was about to stop the movie and go to sleep when the baby turned to look at its mother and I nearly fell off the sofa. It was mom. My mom. She was the baby’s mother. Or at least an actress who looked a whole hell of a lot like her.
The laptop still balanced on my chest and the film still playing, I tentatively picked up my cell phone again. I opened up the IMDB app and typed in “Robert.” “Robert Kardashian Jr.” “Robert DeNiro” The 2019 film ROBERT THE BRUCE. Nothing came up that seemed to be the movie I was watching. I sat the phone down on the floor and kept watching the film.
The baby was given to his mom, my mom, and started cooing as the mother, my mother, spoke softly to it. A man walked into the room with a camera and started taking pictures of the baby and its mother. That man was my dad.
I didn’t know what was going on. How did this footage get uploaded to the internet? How did this movie even get made? I fast forwarded through the movie and the scene jumped to me being brought home from the hospital. The camera was still showing the baby’s perspective, my perspective, and I clearly remembered the house as the one my family lived in for the first few years of my life. I fast forwarded again and I saw me at the kitchen table, my sister feeding me goop out of a bottle. I fast forwarded again and I was on a floor playing with a red truck.
I was horrified. But more than that I was curious. This movie was my entire life, every single second of it. I had to keep watching.
And keep watching I did. I spent the rest of that night watching as I slept in a crib, the screen black but the sound of tiny baby snores and soft cooing coming in through my headphones. That next morning I kept watching as my mother fed me mashed up bananas and sang oldies to me. The laptop should have lost power, or at least gotten unbearably warm from running this long, but still I remained, lying on the couch with the computer balanced on my chest as I watched.
I lost track of days, of weeks, of months. I kept watching. I watched myself grow and encounter the world for the first time, bit by bit. I began to lose track of time as I watched. My apartment and the world around me faded into the periphery as I watched my childhood unfurl on my laptop screen. At first my smell bothered me. I wanted to get up, change my clothes and take a shower, but I couldn’t. I just watched.
Months turned into years and I still watched. A part of my brain would wonder about rent, about my job. Didn’t people realize I was still at home, that they hadn’t seen me in years? But those thoughts faded away as I watched myself go to daycare and then to pre-K and then to school. I watched myself meet my childhood friends, get into fights with them over which Ninja Turtle was the coolest and then renew our friendship over warm Pop-Tarts and Kool-Aid.
I watched the movie as the child version of me watched movies. I watched myself watching BATMAN in 1989, watching HOOK in 1991, watching THE LION KING in 1994. I watched myself in school and on summer breaks and on camping trips with the Cub Scouts and exchanging Marvel trading cards underneath the jungle gym during recess.
I watched myself leave elementary school and I watched my family move across the state and I watched myself make new friends and miss my old ones. I watched myself make promises over the phone with my old friends, promises to stay in touch and then I watched myself break those promises. I watched myself get crushes and get my heartbroken and fall in love and break others’ hearts. I watched myself go into high school and I watched myself discover drinking and drugs and I watched myself get into a car accident my senior year and I watched myself bedridden for a month as my leg heeled.
I had been lying on my couch for eighteen years and still I kept watching.
At one point, during a scene in the movie, set during my sophomore year of college in which I was lying in bed, unable to sleep and listening to the rain pound against the window of my dorm room, I tried to sit up for the first time since I started watching. I didn’t make it far. My flesh on my back was stuck to my shirt which was stuck to the cushion of the couch. Any effort to sit up resulted in horrible pain shooting down my back as I peeled at my skin like peeling dried rubber cement. I could feel the warm ooze of blood roll down my back from my efforts so I stopped struggling, laid back against the sofa and kept watching as the blood dried and I became further encrusted to the couch.
I watched myself graduate college. I watched myself fail at job interview after job interview, my cockiness rewarded with rejection. I watched my relationship with my parents fall apart as I kept asking for loans I never repaid and I watched as I said something so horrible, so unforgiving to my sister that I realized why she had never come looking for me over the last twenty three years I had spent watching the movie.
I watched as I got a job at the supermarket and I watched as I worked my way up from register to assistant manager. I watched as I did inventory one day and was distracted by my attempts to flirt with the young girls assigned to help me and I watched as I miscounted the eggs. I watched as my boss rightfully chewed me out for my mistake and I watched as I went home, annoyed and bitter about being yelled at by the store’s manager. I watched as I entered my apartment, settled into my couch and looked for something to watch, first on Netflix and then on Amazon Prime and then, eventually, on a pirate site my friend had sent me, promising underground films not yet available in theaters. With tears in my eyes, half a lifetime spent lying on a couch watching the movie of myself, I watched as I selected a movie from the site - a movie called ROBERT and I watched as I pressed play and the movie began.