The other night, a bunch of us were sitting by a window in the cafe at MoMA and we somehow got to talking about the difference between sadness and depression. The consensus seemed to be that sadness, no matter how severe, is a clean emotion, while depression is dirty, toxic, full of impurities. Eventually, someone said they would rather be bowled over by a tidal wave of sadness than take a single step through a shallow puddle of depression, and that made sense to me. While superficially the two states may manifest themselves in many of the same ways (and I’m thinking here of days lost drowning in one’s own tears), what they do to your insides is as different as the effects of corrosive acid and cool, clear water.

Once, back when I was in the depths of disrepair — when knowing the difference between sadness and depression would have meant the world to me — I was sitting on my sofa one night, methodically emptying a magnum bottle of Rene Junot, flipping robotically around the cable channels, and I chanced upon a movie called “Bandits,” a truly mediocre Hollywood caper starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis as a pair of good-guy, gentlemen bank robbers who capture the imagination of the public during a string of daring robberies. Owing perhaps to the presence of Cate Blanchett (sporting fire-engine red hair), I allowed myself to get sucked in, and even in my bored and listless stupor I was able register the classic Devastationalist moment when Cate delivered one of the most trenchant lines in recent movie history.

In the movie, Bruce and Billy Bob split up after each job to better elude authorities and meet up a month or so later at prearranged hideaways. About a half-hour into the movie, Billy Bob is alone somewhere in Oregon, and running late for his rendezvous with Bruce, so he attempts a car-jacking. The driver of the car he tries to steal is Cate Blanchett, a repressed and free-spirited housewife who is marginalized and treated like garbage by her high-powered, yuppie business-guy husband. She and her husband have just had a fight, and she is out driving aimlessly to clear her head, singing along loudly to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (!) while sobbing uncontrollably, babbling to herself and veering all over the road.

The car-jacking goes awry because in her state of profound upset Cate can’t brake in time and she hits Billy Bob, sending him sprawling to the pavement. He’s not badly injured, and somehow she drags him into the passenger seat and speeds off towards a hospital.

Billy Bob regains his senses and announces that this is a car-jacking. Cate continues to hurtle and screech down the road, barely missing several large trucks, talking incessantly and not really listening to him. Billy Bob pulls out his gun and tells her to get out of the car, now. “I’ll shoot you with this thing!”

She looks at him completely unfazed, “Oh, go ahead. It’d be an improvement, believe me…”

“I’m a desperate man,” he says.

“Desperate?” she says, “You don’t know the meaning of the word. Desperate is when you wake up in the morning and you wish you hadn’t. It’s knowing that every time you get behind the wheel of a car you’re only a tree away from ending the empty charade that your life has become! So don’t talk to me about desperate!”

Billy Bob realizes that it’s he who is in danger, and asks her to pull over and let him out of the car. “No!” says Cate. “Why?” asks Billy Bob.

“I’m feeling kind of fragile at the moment, I don’t think I should be alone,” says Cate, absently playing with the radio dial and careening all over the road.

Terrified, Billy Bob says, “You’re insane!” That bursts her bubble of self-involvement, and she turns on him, deeply offended:

I’m unhappy,” she cries, “It’s not the same thing!

Car-Jack Scene From “Bandits”

Cate Blanchett & Billy Bob Thornton

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