Sea of Love, a thriller from 1989, is not your typical police drama. Yeah, there’s the career cop drinking too much (Al Pacino) and the sexy woman who becomes a suspect (Ellen Barkin), and the cop’s buddy who offers comic relief (John Goodman). But the killer finds victims through poetic ditties in the newspaper personal ads.
Best scene in the movie happens before Barkin even appears. Pacino and a bunch of other cops are sitting around his dad’s apartment trying to come up with a rhyme for the personal ad they are going to use to set up the killer. They have a bunch of typical meathead ones, and then Pacino’s dad, played by William Hickey starts talking from the corner and everything gets very quiet . . . like it does when anybody recited poetry. It’s true—see if it doesn’t happen the next time you hear some lines of poetry. He says:
I live alone within myself
like a hut within the woods.
I keep my heart high upon the shelf
barren of any goods.
I need another’s arms
to reach for it and place it
where it belongs.
I need another’s touch
and smile to fill my hut with songs.
After that, the father says, “Frank’s mother wrote that when she was in high school. It was 1934. She was a goddamned beautiful person. Go ahead. Use it. She’d like that.”
2nd best scene: Barkin’s character believes in poetry and not mincing words. She says this to Pacino at their date after just meeting him: “I don’t believe in wasting time on this kind of stuff. You know what you know and you go with it. You’re just not my type. I believe in animal attraction. I believe in love at first sight. I believe in this (snaps fingers), and I don’t feel it with you.”
Later he meets her at the market.
She knows he didn’t write the poem. He confesses his mother wrote it, which is why his father fell in love with her. THAT’s what gets her.
He tells her, “You know my definition of poetry: Precision in life. Knowing when and how to make your move. Say your piece, like you the other night with me. Ah that was poetry in motion. Beautiful. Beautiful.”
This is my favorite movie about poetry that is not about poetry. I plan to have an exhibit in our museum that has clips from movies that show how poetry matters in everyday life. Even serial killers dig it.