The Three Faces of Eve is a 1957 film starring Joanne Woodward about a woman suffering from multiple personalities. The three personalities are Eve White, Eve Black, and Jane. One is docile (Eve White), one rebellious and nasty (Eve Black), and one is able to integrate the other two into a third, stable personality (Jane). For her performance, Woodward won a Best Actress Oscar and went on to play the psychiatrist in a similar film, Sybil (1976). The flying nun, Sally Field, played the disturbed patient in that film. As far as I remember, though, she didn’t sing or fly around an island.
My mother let me and my brother watch The Three Faces of Eve sometime later. I found it unsettling. I put it in the same category as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) with Bette Davis. Actually, they’re both unsettling for their ability to touch one of our deepest fears: not really knowing who the other person is, which is another way of saying that we don’t know who we are, not in any substantive way.
One of the most telling ways this comes out is in our doubts about the choices we’ve made in life. How many times have you caught yourself wondering “what if” about a job, a place of residence, a relationship? If only I had done such-and-such, things would be so much different now.
I put myself through the “what if” test regarding three possible scenarios in my life and where they would have led me. Eve had her personalities, I have my scenarios. Occasionally, I have played them out in my head during down times like riding the subway, listening to people describe their blocked colon, or reading Friedrich Hayek.
Scenario #1. Instead of going to graduate school at the age of 38 to study religion, I go immediately from college to law school for a degree in Constitutional Law, then move to Washington DC and clerk for a federal judge. I meet a woman with long, black hair named Naomi who wears pearls and understands how deeply sensitive and caring I am. We get married and have three kids. Then I discover that she is an alcoholic and in love with a social worker with frizzy hair named Yolanda. We get divorced. I go to work for Alberto Gonzalez and start trashing the Constitution, but I keep my hair.
Scenario #2. I leave college in Philadelphia and move immediately to New York City where I get a job for this new live television show called “Saturday Night Live.” I work my way up from coffee runs to anchor on the segment Weekend Update, which turns out to be a disaster. Disaster or not, I am offered a role in a movie as a groundhog. I make more money than there are commas to count it and move to Malibu, where I become addicted to cocaine and lose my hair. So far, no children.
Scenario #3. Believing that I have been living a lie, I volunteer my services working for peace in areas like the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Paris (everybody needs a baguette once in a while). I feel fulfilled but eventually get tired of traveling. I renounce all worldly goods and possessions and enter a monastery in Patmos, Greece. There, I tend to a holy man in a cave, who tells me before he dies that I should have decided something–anything–and stuck with it. I am not amused or comforted. He dies. I have no hair but don’t care.
There are other scenarios, of course, some that involve university teaching, stand-up comedy, and that group of Italian girls I met traveling through Europe, but they don’t change the outcome, that point of convergence when everything comes together like water circling a drain. As it turns out, I have three kids, half my hair, ex-wives, and have even lived in Washington, DC. Sooner or later, you live through all the scenarios.
It also doesn’t really matter what you do, because in the end it is you doing it. You can’t change that. In fact, the best way to get somewhere (i.e., happiness) is to stop thinking about scenarios and planning and take life as it comes. Or as God sends it. The trick is not to get in the way. The two Eves must have sensed that all along, which is why Jane showed up.