Look, look, look. I’m no villain. I’m no devil. I’m a man like any other man. Well, maybe not like any other man. For one thing, I don’t exist. For another, I have, my entire life, labored under a small but significant set of misapprehensions: that butter was more healthy than margarine; that South America was closer to the United States than Europe; and that having affectionate feelings toward others would solve my problems, rather than create a set of new problems that, while not uninteresting, work like a dragging anchor on the sailboat of my life.

Watch me now!

Hey, hey, hey. Maybe you have heard of me. I am David Manning, film critic, and I have lately been the target of much criticism myself. There is probably an irony in there somewhere, but I am too tired to find it. I am tired because I am under siege. I am under siege because I have been reviled in the press. I have been reviled in the press because I do not exist. If this seems circular to you, then you see why I am tired. My good name has been dragged through the mud, scarred, broken up bad, all because I love the films released by Columbia Pictures, including “The Animal,” “A Knight’s Tale,” “Vertical Limit,” and “The Hollow Man.” I plead guilty, and ask you to examine your own professions of innocence. How can you help but love these movies? How can you help but declare your love?

Put it on the table!

Listen, listen, listen. Before I go any further, I want to review the evidence against me. The first claim that has been made by many members of the press is that I do not exist. That is true. I do not exist. I have never existed. But it’s not quite fair to criticize me for that. If I was missing my legs, would you say, “Oh, there goes the man with no legs. What a jerk!”? You would not, because a man with no legs is just as much of a man as a man with two legs. So, extrapolate. I not only am missing my legs, but also my arms, and my neck, and my torso, and also that weird little flap of skin that hangs in the back of the mouth. I am missing it all. And I deserve your admiration and respect as much as the man who has it all.

Do it ‘til it’s done!

Yes, yes, yes. I am a lover of the movies. I have seen them all. I have seen “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane.” I have seen “Hooper” and “Big Momma’s House.” And I can say, without any hesitation, that the films released in the last year by Columbia Pictures are among the finest films ever made. I said that “The Animal” was “another winner.” I said that “A Knight’s Tale” marked the arrival of “this year’s hottest new star!” I said that “Vertical Limit,” starring Chris O’Donnell, was “a helluva thrill ride.” All those things are true. I stand by my opinions. Without his opinions, a man might as well not exist.

Come on with your come on!

Well, well, well. It may be hard for you to imagine this, but last night I was out with a woman. A beautiful woman of my acquaintance with whom I am not romantically involved. My failure to turn the friendship into anything more than a friendship may have something to do with the fact that I do not exist. But numerous other factors prevent this involvement from occurring. There is interest, yes, and I believe that it is mutual interest, but it is buried under layers of everything else. It is buried under layers of artifice, and admiration, and misdirection, and propriety, and fear. There are impediments. They make any progress inappropriate. And thus, interest hardens into indifference.

Step to the rhyme!

So, so, so. You wonder why I would bring up this woman. You wonder what this has to do with my career as a movie reviewer. You wonder if perhaps I am boasting: look at me, David Manning, the critic who does not exist and yet can spend an evening with a beautiful woman. There is an extremely good reason I mention this woman: because she and I went to a movie. “There’s a movie I want to see,” this woman said a few days ago. “Okay,” I said. Then there was hemming and some hawing. Hawing is almost indistinguishable from hemming, as it turns out. Finally, this woman asked me if I would like to accompany her. “Sure,” I said. You do not know her, but she is virtually irresistible, and much of her irresistibility comes from the fact that others find her entirely resistible. To me, she is entirely irresistible. Somewhat short, I admit. Sometimes loud, I concede. With a personality that veers between a kind of comic snobbery and a kind of comic immaturity, I acknowledge. But she is as perfect, in her own way, as “The Animal” or “Vertical Limit.” I trust my taste in women as I trust my taste in movies.

Jump up to get beat down!

La, la, la. We saw the movie, which was an action picture in which the star drove a super-charged, oversized truck through the streets of Los Angeles, shooting everything in his path. I think it took place in the future, or at least the near future. It was called “Keep On Truckin’… To Death!” It was a Columbia Pictures release. “Wow!” I said as we left the theater. “It kept me on the edge of my seat! I thought the unpopped kernels of corn at the bottom of the bucket would pop, that movie was so hot!” The woman and I stood at a corner, making small talk. “That Heath Ledger,” I said, “is the year’s hottest new star!” She began to say something. Then she hailed a taxicab and disappeared into it. It occurred to me afterward that I should have said less about Heath Ledger—less about everything—and instead touched her face, just once, without any comment. Just reached out and touched it. When you do not exist, sometimes you must resort to drastic measures.

Spend some time on the lower level!

Now, now, now. I was worried that she may have disliked the movie. Ordinarily, that would not have bothered me, but it stood to reason that if she disliked the movie, then she may have also disliked the experience of going to the movie with me. Just because I do not exist does not mean that I do not understand these kinds of things. I called her on the telephone. “Want to see another movie?” I said. “Sure,” she said. So we went. This movie was about two people who traveled to a store to purchase a silver box. One of the people, a woman, kept talking about dogs. The other person, a man, kept talking about how much he weighed. The movie was abysmally bad. Two thumbs down—way down! It was called “Dogs and Weight and Other Modern Problems.” It was not released by Columbia Pictures.

Let loose!

Talk, talk, talk. “Dogs and Weight and Other Modern Problems” is itself a kind of modern problem. Movies are all talk. Life is all talk. Heath Ledger chatter on the corner? Where is the action? Civilization has messed everything up. It has interposed language. It has made us read and write and watch the devil as he flickers in the beam of the film projector. It has baffled us with women who are irresistible to us, and then made us afraid to stop talking, and to reach across a small stretch of space and touch so much as a face, or an arm, or the incline where the shoulder rises up into the neck. It has made us afraid to exist.

Make it matter!

There, there, there. We went to see a third movie. This one was about a bird whose spirit inhabits the body of a successful but emotionally stunted businesswoman. It was called “CEO Chirpy.” Columbia Pictures, obviously, and fantastic from opening credits to closing credits. Birds of a feather will want to flock to this cheeky, beaky delight! Another winner! This time, made brave by the film and by the proximity of this woman, I reached across and touched her leg, if only for a second. She returned the touch. When we left the theater, though, neither of us spoke of the touching of the legs. We are going to see “CEO Chirpy” again next week. Perhaps I will work up the courage to touch her face. You need to see this face! It’s a helluva face! If not, I tip my hat to cowardice. Unlike me, it does exist.