POINT OMEGA, by Don DeLillo. Scribner, 117 pp. $24.
When "Psycho" was released in 1960, Don DeLillo was a Mad Man for Ogilvy & Mather, had just published his first story and was six years away from his first novel. Reading his latest, "Point Omega," it's hard not to think of the Bronx boy slouched in one of his neighborhood theaters and having Hitchcock's surgical cinema prick his imagination/intellect - suggesting the relativity of time (i.e., the shower scene that lasts three minutes and forever), the language of cinema, the cinema of language.
DeLillo's prose has frequently revealed a cinematic bent, one exemplified by the celebrated Jackie Gleason-throws-up-at-Ebbets-Field overture of his epic "Underworld," but also that same novel's "highway shooter" sequence (in which the video of a murder-in-motion is analyzed with horrifying matter-of-factness). How, why and what we watch - and see - is "Point Omega's" point, as is the malleability of art and outlook. The plot of "Point Omega" - a title which suggests the apex, or extinction, of human consciousness - is slight, perhaps, but those who criticize DeLillo's latest for its size are really complaining about the number of pages. They should buy their literature by the pound.
Bookending the story are scenes set in what has to be the Museum of Modern Art, where an installation (based on the actual "24 Hour Psycho" by Douglas Gordon) has captured the imagination of a man who watches Hitchcock's masterpiece play out at two frames per second, rather than the standard 24. "In the time it took for Anthony Perkins to turn his head," DeLillo writes, "there seemed to flow an array of ideas involving science and philosophy and nameless other things, or maybe he was seeing too much. But it was impossible to see too much."
The unnamed man is also our witness to the entrance of two men, whom he mistakes for a film professor and an adjunct, the older man with a ponytail, the younger man in attendance. But mistaken impressions are all part of the game. "It takes work, pious effort, to see what you are looking at," the museumgoer tells himself.
In actuality, the old man is Richard Elster, a 73-year-old veteran of U.S. government war rooms and a Paul Wolfowitz-like player behind the invasion of Iraq. The younger man is Jim Finley, who wants Elster to sit for a documentary film, which Elster knows very well is intended as a confessional. But he invites Finley to his home in the southwestern desert to discuss, drink and experience a scenario straight out of Antonioni with Elster's so-unremarkable-she's-remarkable daughter, Jessie.
DeLillo, like any moviegoer his age (73), grew up on double features. Here he gives us a triple (at least). Besides "Psycho" and "L'Avventura," both of which came out in '60 and involved vanished leading ladies, DeLillo is deliberately mining "The Fog of War" in which Errol Morris interviewed former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara about Vietnam, and his culpability. McNamara seemed thoroughly convinced he justified himself. And as "Point Omega" tells us, perception is all about perspective.