Sit, focus on your breath, let errant thoughts drift past — we know how meditation supposedly works in theory, but how does it work in practice? Here we have one example, which comedically plays out at Sunset Boulevard’s show-biz-story-saturated Chateau Marmont. It stars Lena Dunham, filmmaker, writer, creator of the HBO series Girls, and, depending on who’s writing about her, the embodiment of the aspirations, delusions, or anxieties of a generation. Any way the profiles frame it, Dunham has a complicated life, which makes her as suitable a candidate as any for a daily meditation regimen.
Or as one of her assistants puts it after running down the day’s schedule — a photo shoot, an interview with Rihanna, a baptism, a Celiacs for Hillary Clinton dinner — “You do have to meditate twice or your brain will explode.” But just as soon as Dunham finds the right “om” to chant to herself, questions beset her consciousness: “Does my hand feel weird?” “Are Jack and I ready for adulthood? What if we have kids and it all goes wrong?” “Am I neglecting my friendships?” “What am I going to do after Girls ends?” “Do I spend enough time with my family? Is the internet right about me? Do all dogs secretly hate me?” Surely we all get caught in such tangled webs when first we practice meditating, but Dunham’s experience with short films empowers her to take the depiction one step further.
“Should we do, like, Thai tonight?” asks Dunham’s boyfriend, the musician Jack Antonoff, not just inside Dunham’s head but from a chair on the other side of the room. Other meditation-interrupting apparitions follow, taking the form of Dunham’s best friend (who’s found a new, also-famous best friend for herself), an infuriated fellow player on Girls, her misbehaving future daughter, and a couple of assistants about to defect for jobs with Mindy Kaling. And if you think using meditation as a way of dealing with the exigencies of a showbiz career, let alone doing it at the Chateau Marmont, seems like a preposterously southern Californian concept, wait until you see the solution at which Dunham ultimately arrives.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.