"SUPPOSE YOU COULD live your life over again, only deliberately this time, consciously. If that happened, I think the thing you'd want most of all would be not to repeat yourself." So says Vershinin in Chekhov's Three Sisters, and I feel I've understood what he means. Why is the lack of repetition the most important thing? Certainly, if hell is endless, then anguish and boredom would be at their most acute if we knew what happens next: who will say and do what, where she will go, what he will do, how I will feel about it all. Variety is freedom; repetition is death.

And yet. The first fact of the world is that it repeats itself. A new day dawns, and I'm still here, and so is that lady who comforts me. Vershinin--who knows that in the future we will be happy, but for the present we must work--thinks that God is the driving force of linearity and that happiness resides in the intersection of free will and randomness. He is naturally uncomfortable with the passivity of repetition. "You'd try at least to create a new environment for yourself," he says, "a flat like this one, for instance, with flowers and plenty of light." The accumulation of more and different: Perhaps this is what existential nausea feels like. Endless variety; free will and randomness marching ever forward in the bright sunlight of now. Maybe Vershinin is wrong and the Calvinists were right. God is everything but free will and randomness. God is darkness, not sunlight but black night, with its threat of summation and its promise of re-commencement: the comfort of circularity.

"I have a wife and two small children," says Vershinin. "Well if I had to start my life all over again, I wouldn't marry, oh no." Yesterday my own true bride, feeling used up, said, "I feel like a mistake has been made, like I should have been hit by a truck years ago, and now I just have to hang around for no good reason." I asked her to hold on at least until December 15, so we could see It's a Wonderful Life at the Grand Illusion. It comes around every year, and since it now seems that repetition is not death but life, it helps to keep the hounds of hell at bay.

Oh my love, let's sink together into the black, the rich black, the soft black, before the all-forgiving black and white and witness George Bailey's own existential crisis, as once again he attempts to run away from his life. Let's forget that time I took you to see The Lady Eve in the grand illusion of Paris and didn't let on that I'd seen the same film in the same theater with someone else five years before, or indeed that I'd seen every Lubitsch film ever made and hadn't taken you--never mind that we hadn't met yet; there is no excuse for the absence of love. And let's remember the time years ago that we together, in this very theater, discovered that it's a wonderful life, not by the treacle of TV but by the oracle of projection.

Remember--the gymnasium floors part to reveal a swimming pool, and thanks be to the glory of film, it is the blackest black hole, a very void, that George and Mary will fall into. And then the others, in black ties and tails and gowns, will jump too, foolishly and fearlessly, mindless of the great depression that is just around the bend.

And when George tells Mary he's not in love with her, that he has places to go and big things to do, and then kisses her and says, "I love you," perhaps we will remember, there in a small community theater, huddled together with our neighbors dressed up in tails and gowns for the annual party that follows the screening, that you can't see God by the clear light of day. You must, all at once, leap into the black.

The George W. Bailey Memorial Award is annually given to an individual who has made an outstanding, unrecognized contribution to local film culture. This year, the award will be given to Seattle Art Museum film curator Greg Olsen. One of Seattle's treasures, Olsen has been with SAM for 29 years, having joined the museum's staff in 1971. He has turned SAM's annual film noir series--which just ended its 23rd annual installment last Thursday with a new print of Chinatown--into the longest-running noir series in the world. In addition to the noir series, Mr. Olsen programs film events throughout the year, including the annual Twin Peaks festival, and series such as last year's "Cary Grant for President." Olsen's book on David Lynch is forthcoming in the spring.