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The Moviegoer is the debut novel by Walker Percy, first published in the United States by Vintage in 1961. It won the U.S. National Book Award. Time magazine included the novel in its "Time 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005". In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Moviegoer sixtieth on its list of the hundred best English-language novels of the twentieth century.
The novel is heavily influenced by the existentialist themes of authors like Søren Kierkegaard, whom Percy read extensively. Unlike many dark didactic existentialist novels (including Percy's later work), The Moviegoer has a light poetic tone. It was Percy's first, most famous, and most widely praised novel, and established him as one of the major voices in Southern literature. The novel also draws on elements of Dante by paralleling the themes of Binx Bolling's life to that of the narrator of the Divine Comedy.
The Moviegoer tells the story of Binx Bolling, a young stock-broker in postwar New Orleans. The decline of tradition in the Southern United States, the problems of his family and his traumatic experiences in the Korean War have left him alienated from his own life. He day-dreams constantly, has trouble engaging in lasting relationships and finds more meaning and immediacy in movies and books than in his own routine life.
The loose plot of the novel follows The Moviegoer himself, Binx Bolling, in desperate need of spiritual redemption. At Mardi Gras, he breaks out of his caged everyday life and launches himself on a journey, a quest, in "search" of his inner self. Without any mental compass or sense of direction he wanders the streets of New Orleans' French Quarter, and Chicago, and then travels the Gulf Coast, interacting with his surroundings as he goes. He has philosophical moments, reflecting on the people and things he encounters on the road. He is constantly challenged to define himself in relation to friends, family, sweet-hearts and career despite his urge to remain vague and open to possibility.
"What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life."
During the 1980s Terrence Malick worked on a screen adaptation but eventually dropped it.