Don DeLillo is 73 years old. Richard Elster, the philosophical war consultant at the center of DeLillo’s 15th novel, Point Omega, is also 73. It’s usually inadvisable to look too closely at such parallels, but in fiction, nothing is coincidence, and in this case, the connection looms so large over the proceedings, it nags to be examined.
The surface story concerns experimental filmmaker Jim Finley and his quest to make a Fog Of War-like documentary featuring Elster delivering one unbroken dialogue/confession, shot against a bare wall. Finley’s sojourn to Elster’s California desert retreat to solicit his participation devolves into weeks of bourbon-fueled twilight musings on his front porch. Iraq is mentioned, as are Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jerry Lewis, Russian Ark, rendition, war, and geology. Midway through this, Elster’s daughter arrives, bearing the necessary whiff of sexuality and mystique to provide some semblance of an endgame.
Yet all this amounts to an almost Forrest Gump-ian gloss, wherein important things seem to be occurring, but no worthwhile message is ever conveyed. Given the novel’s attempts to communicate the nature of film and how it records and mimics reality, it’s harsh to charge that Point Omega seeks to be like Ingmar Bergman, and ends up more like Robert Zemeckis. Yet that appears to be the novel’s aim—to reduce intellect down to nothing as a path to some kind of amoebic immortality.
The book’s title is borrowed from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit philosopher whose notion of an “omega point” foretells the inevitable peak of consciousness at some distant stage in mankind’s evolution. Elster’s desire to go “past knowing” brought him to the desert, where he’s confronted with the explicit geology of mountains and desolation, and time disappears. “I don’t get old here,” he says.
And that’s where these two 73-year-olds converge. So many have projected upon DeLillo a notion of his fiction as 20th-century prophecy, his books as paranoia redeemed by real events. It’s no shock, then, to find him in this new century transfixed by slowness and continental drift, places where events are perpetual, but invisible. Elster has retreated to a landscape to ponder an endpoint where consciousness is transcended and “we pass completely out of being. Stones.” Unfortunately, the concept of DeLillo as a passive desert rock is far less compelling than when he’s demanding we see what’s underneath them.