Sometimes a Cigar Is (Not) Just a Cigar: Distinctions of Masculinity in SMOKE

The movie Smoke, written by Paul Auster and directed by Wayne Wang, begins with a few men in a cigar shop talking about sports. Nothing unusual here, however, this charged, masculine space changes when Paul Benjamin walks in. He casually enters into the conversation when a question is posed regarding how tobacco was introduced to Europe. Paul goes on to tell a peculiar story of how Sir Walter Raleigh determined a way to measure the weight of smoke.

After Paul leaves, Auggie explains how Paul is a writer, but hasn't written since his wife was killed in the cross-fire of a police shootout. He goes on to say that she was pregnant which means Paul lost his first child and his wife the same day. Here, in a matter of minutes, we move from a group of guys talking about the New York Mets, then to an amusing anecdote, and finally to a tragic and intensely personal story. Wayne Wang's film, Smoke, is primarily about masculine identity and masculine friendship in particular, so it's interesting to see how Wang constructs a masculine space where emotional distance and intimacy can occur simultaneously.

Notice how Wang is able to do this within the opening scene described. I think it's important to note that Paul isn't present when Auggie, Harvey Keitel, explains what happened to Paul. Also, Auggie has a certain matter of fact style in his delivery. However, he's not entirely removed emotionally. Auggie reveals he's thought a lot about that day: "Sometimes I wonder if she wouldn't have given me exact change, then ..." Within the scene there is a duality presented as Auggie is strong in the presence of others, yet openly admits that within his thoughts, he's concerned and affectionate towards his friend. This can even be seen as one of the marginal characters, after hearing Paul's story, is moved, yet also maintains a certain composure by saying "Bad Day at Blackrock, huh Auggie." This is a great line in that it communicates pathos for Paul, yet in referencing a popular film, also maintains a certain emotional distance.