Tuesday, May 02, 2006
I was watching Catwoman while eating Mexican chocolate ice cream and waiting for Nottinghill to come on when I noticed something. Catwoman starts out with the lead character saying that she was about to die. That reminded me of The Jacket which I saw last night. That led me to Kevin Spacey's monologue at the beginning of American Beauty where he begins the movie saying that in one year he was going to be dead.
Although the endings are far different, the simple fact they began each of the movies in question with the main character about to die. American Beauty seems to be the first to use the device of the main character talking about dying as a major event in his/her life as a beginning or culmination of some change, a catalyst that drives the action. However, it seems to me to be more a trend, a way of thinking about death that is less an ending and more a beginning. Is this a sign of the times or is there a different message being offered.
In American Beauty, the main character is fired from his job and finally gets the message that life is passing him by. In that sense, being fired is like dying and Spacey uses his knowledge of his boss's peccadilloes to leverage a better "retirement" package. Thrust naked into the world, he decides to shake up his already shaken, not stirred life to change from a spineless worm who takes it on the chin with his wife, his daughter and his job, unwilling to straighten up and look life directly in the eyes, into a strong man who reaches out and takes life by the throat. All his changes, physical and mental, lead him eventually to his death, his second and final death.
Patience in Catwoman begins the same way, saying she is about to die and that is when she began to live. Jack Starks in The Jacket begins the movie saying that the first time he died everything was white. He is shot in the head by a Muslim child in the Iraqi desert.
In each movie death is not the end but a beginning, a chance to turn their lives upside down, cast off the shackles holding them to an unrelieved and endless round of quiet desperation and begin to the live the life they should have lived from the beginning. Death has become, at least in these visions, the catalyst for change instead of a final ending. Is this Hollywood's attempt to Hollywoodize what most people fear in the darkness; could it be that positive? Or have the philosophers slipped through the Hollywood cracks to offer a message of hope that death is not the end, that there is no real magic about death, but that death is a catalytic transition point between the mundane and unsatisfying into the reality of dreams and wishes and the secret desires we hide from the light of discovery?
Could this be a trend or simply a coincidence that as we move into the twenty-first century we refuse to be held to a dire future where we avoid the specter of death but rather embrace death as nothing more fearful than change, like a caterpillar seeking the safety of a cocoon in order to accept death in order to move from pain into a new and better life?