The Road-to-Ruin Cure
The things that you want are not necessarily the things that are good.
FLOOD’s weekly Pop Culture Cure offers an antidote—or six—to the most upsetting developments of the past week. (Because therapy’s expensive, and entertainment’s not.)
Despite a lack of popular support for both their policies and their president, Republicans still predominate in the House, the Senate, the Cabinet, and, soon, the Supreme Court (oof, that last one still really burns). Donald Trump, as a result, will have very little trouble getting his way over the next two years (minimum). That is a terrifying thought to anyone who sees value in facts, science, rational thought, democracy, and/or moral decency. But before we go too dark, let’s remember that humanity has driven over the edge of many an abyss, and yet here we still are, still driving real and metaphorical vehicles toward and over the edges of many more real and metaphorical abysses on every continent across the world! We are survivors, and we’re the best we’ve got! That said, who wouldn’t prefer not falling into said abysses, given the option? (Rational people agree: not falling into abysses is best.) And so I offer this list of flame-outs, burn-outs, and self-destructors, in the hopes that the nihilists and anarchists among us might recall that there’s nothing to be gained in seizing control of an annihilated world. (Sometimes the poison is the cure.)
God, in The Bible
The simple thing that he wants: the faith and fealty of all of the beings that he has created; the salvation of the same.
The complex thing that he accidentally reaps: an endless feud with humanity; a world of endless strife; and the salvation of at least one person (himself).
God got off to a good start what with the light, the sea and sky, the stars, sun, and moon, and Eden and all that, but it takes only three chapters before he stars feuding with his best bro Adam. And not long after that, this very same God who made order out of chaos with a flick of his infinite finger just can’t quite keep from feuding, over and over again, with all manner of ungodly folk on Earth. Rumor has it that he is still feuding with us today, and that he’s planning fights between his Son and his Anti-Son many years in the future. Now, I don’t know him well or at all, but I have ears, don’t I, and he sounds like a great fight promoter (maybe he should focus on that instead?) and a terrible, litigious, and chore-chart-obsessed kind of dad. I don’t know for sure how it will all turn out, but I do know for sure that if he wants his children to love him, that he should probably stop torturing them. At least as a point of policy.
Jack, in The Shining
The simple thing that Jack wants: some peace and quiet.
The complex thing that Jack accidentally reaps: eternal peace and quiet… which might also mean eternal pain and suffering (but I dunno, the ending’s weird).
There are few better portraits of the addict, the monomaniac, the narcissist, and the writer than Kubrick and King created in their respective Shinings. I’m not going to argue over which is better here (because the movie is, obviously), but I will say that if you want to think seriously about whether or not it’s a good thing to want something—anything—above all else, this is a very excellent thought experiment. Extremes are extreme, in other words, but this horror experiment is the most fun, most interesting, most terrifying one that you are ever likely to consider.
Tommy Wiseau, in The Room
The simple thing that Tommy wants: fame and fortune.
The complex thing that Tommy accidentally reaps: filmic infamy, plus a permanent spot in the cult film canon.
All Tommy Wiseau wanted to do was make a movie. I mean, yes, he also wanted to make money and win awards and become famous, and he wanted to do all of this without spending much time working on things like dialogue or cinematography or, uh, the simple art of being a human being, BUT, in the end, he also just wanted to make a movie. And he was very, very earnest about that desire, along with all of his other desires (including the desire to rub roses against the naked body of his lead), and the result is what can fairly be described as the worst movie of all time. To be able to be this transparent takes something like genius. But watching someone be this transparent is also a lot like watching a horror movie. And so, in the end, what we end up watching is best described as: comedy, maybe? Or maybe just as the best goddamn night of your life. (Go see it.)
The Joker, in The Dark Knight
The simple thing that the Joker wants: chaos.
The complex thing that the Joker accidentally reaps: chaos.
Sometimes people just want the wrong things. And sadly it’s very little solace for the rest of humanity (and for Batmen) that the destructors get to net so little. (Also just damn, what a bummer this whole movie is right now, on every count.)
Gaston, in Beauty and the Beast
The simple thing that Gaston wants: Belle—and if not Belle, then the Beast.
The complex thing that Gaston accidentally reaps: the end of his life (life, a.k.a. la vie: that place where he could eat raw eggs, pop a collar or two, and feel most, most robust).
It’s got to be a weird feeling to want something so much that not having it makes you want to destroy it and everything around it. (Actually, no, now that I say it like that, that sounds very relatable indeed, and makes me feel like perhaps I and everyone else on Earth is a Gaston; and no, that is not correct.) Gaston wants Belle because she is, as her name suggests, beautiful, and then when the beautiful thing wants the ugly thing (the Beast, also aptly named), Gaston gets so Gastoned about it that he needs to form a literal pitchfork mob to go and kill said ugly thing. This is not logical thinking, Gaston. This will gain you nothing but enemies, at best, and death (or, in Disney terms, a long fall) at worst. But Gaston is not a smart man, and never was. And so he falls. And falls. And falls.
Ben Sanderson, in Leaving Las Vegas
The simple thing that Ben wants: a drink.
The complex thing that Ben accidentally reaps: a perpetual hangover.
It’s good to have more than one interest; I suppose is the moral of this list. It’s also good to not watch this movie, if you want to be a functional human being for the next several days. This is despair through and through, and the fact that it also manages to be vital art doesn’t keep it from being a crippling blow to anyone’s will to live. Also, please remember that this was the movie that added an easy twenty years to the now eternal debate: Nic Cage—idiot or savant? Forgive us our sins.