Walker Percy is the author of The Moviegoer, which is written about a young man named John Binkerson Bolling otherwise known as Binx. He is the main character who grows up in New Orleans. He is a moviegoer who is on a search but the object of his search is not clear. The people he encounters help him along the way, especially his stepbrother Lonnie and an African American man. The Moviegoer takes place during Mardi Gras when Binx discovers that something more is needed in his life.
The story begins with Binx receiving a letter from his Aunt Emily saying that they need to have a talk. This talk is about his cousin Kate who Aunt Emily is worried about. She has been “moping around the house” ever since her fiance’s death and Aunt Emily wants Binx to cheer her up (28). She wants him to treat Kate as he did before and joke around with her to make her laugh and smile. She has been staying inside and has not interacted with people in a while.
On Binx’s way to his aunt’s house, “the idea of a search occurs to” him (13). “The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something” (13). But what exactly is Binx onto? Binx doesn’t know and doesn’t reveal the purpose of his search because he fears “exposing (his) own ignorance” (14). Is this search about God? Binx “hesitates to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting himself a goal which everyone else has reached – and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest. For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics – which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker” (13, 14).
Binx’s search continues through his attraction to the movies that “are onto the search, but throw him further from the truth. The search always ends in despair” (13). The movies are a way for him to fill the emptiness in his life. They give him incite into others lives and into his own life. “Before I see a movie it is necessary for me to learn about something about the theater or the people who operate it, to touch base before going inside” (74). This helps him learn more about how others live and learn more about life, which helps him move further along in his search. As a moviegoer, he only goes to movies with Kate and Lonnie because they know not to talk. Lonnie and Binx can communicate in silence. They know what each other are thinking during the movie and can share moments together without speaking.
Binx relates being a moviegoer to being Jewish based on evidence; “a sociologist reported that a significantly large percentage of solitary moviegoers are Jews” (89). He believes he “had been a Jew in a previous incarnation . . . Anyhow it is true that I am Jewish by instinct” (89). Binx believes he is not religious but that something was in him in the past. Even if he was slightly religious Binx would refuse to have his search center on God and religion for he believes there is something more for him.
The Negro mentioned at the end of the book is also significant in Binx’s search. “A Negro gets out and goes up into the church” and is described as “more respectable than respectable; he is more middle-class than one could believe” (233). He goes into the church for an unknown reason, but when he comes out, “his forehead is an ambiguous sienna color and pied: it is impossible to be sure that he received ashes” (234). This is a sign of being absolved from your sins and being forgiven. It is a sign of a new beginning, a new chapter that Binx is starting. The Negro “gets in his Mercury” and “does not leave immediately but sits looking down at something on the seat beside him” (234). It is unclear as to what he is in search for and “it is impossible to say why he is here” (234). Just like Binx, he is in search for something and it is unknown as to what. But, the Negro received ashes despite his need to search and has received forgiveness. The Negro is not complete but still has to search even though he is rooted in his religion. The path to one’s search is individualized and varies depending on the person. People’s single encounters with other people along the way influence their path.
Binx’s search then takes him to visit his Catholic mother who has remarried because Binx’s father died in WWII. Through this remarriage, Binx has a sickly stepbrother named Lonnie. Through Lonnie, Binx grows in his search. On Sundays, he and Lonnie “have a program. First we talk, usually on a religious subject; then we take a ride; then he asks me to do him like Akim” (164). Binx beats up his stepbrother and Lonnie responds with, “I am still offering my communion for you” (165). Binx knows and admits to loving Lonnie when he asks. Lonnie makes Binx aware of religion and makes Binx open up in conversation. Although they do not have the same beliefs, Lonnie’s way of life, of being content and rooted in God even when he is so sick, helps Binx.
During Binx’s search he discovers that “the believers are far from unique themselves” (109). “I had discovered that a person does not have to be this or be that or be anything, not even oneself. One is free. Binx again discovered something about life and this has opened his eyes that he can be whatever he wants to be and he is free to do what he wants.
Binx and his cousin Kate take a train to Chicago, and return to a very sick Lonnie. On the trip, Kate tells Binx that he (Binx) is “not religious. God is not religious. You are the unmoved mover. You don’t need God or anyone else – no credit to you, unless it is a credit to be the most self-centered person alive. I don’t know whether I love you, but I believe in you and I will do what you tell me” (197). This describes what Kate believes about Binx. Even though he is not religious, she still loves him and will listen to him. She doesn’t think Binx has achieved anything in his search, but this is proven to be false. In the end Binx decides to give up his business as a bond dealer and go to medical school, and he and Kate decide to marry. He does not know his exact plan but “there is only one thing he can do: listen to people, see how they stick themselves into the world, hand them along always in their dark journey and be handed along, and for good and selfish reasons. It only remains to decide whether this vocation is best pursued in a service station or” (233). This is what he does through going to the movies and now he can apply what he learns to his own life.
Because of this search, Binx discovers that he is free and can do what he wants with his life. He does not need to be as religious as Lonnie but he has choices. Lonnie is willing to fast even though he is very sick and this gives Binx faith that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Even on Lonnie’s deathbed, he is content. After his “half-brother Lonnie Smith died of a massive virus infection which was never positively identified,” he is asked what will happen to Lonnie (237). The children ask Binx, “When Our Lord raises us up on the last day, will Lonnie still be in a wheelchair or will he be like us?” and he responds with, “he’ll be like you” (240). This he may not act in a religious way but at least he does not deny the Lord. So even though he is not all religious, he has taken the faith of Lonnie and directed it into his life. Lonnie’s belief in the long run affects Binx and helps him so many times in his search.
He started as a moviegoer, living his life through the movies and now he realizes he can live his life through his actions. He was inspired by one he knew very well and by others everyday actions. He was inspired for the better and hopefully his new profession and wife will fill the void that he’s been feeling for so long.