The Thing I Like About …

Muppet Christmas Carol: the way the spirit of Christmas Present grows old in a day.

In Muppet Christmas Carol – just like all the other Christmas Carols – three spirits visit Scrooge, and try to show him the error of his ways. The spirit of Christmas Past is a little girl, and the spirit of Christmas Future is a grim reaper. The spirit of Christmas Present is at first a young man, but after spending a few hours with Scrooge and showing him how Christmas is going in other parts of the town, the spirit of Christmas Present has grown quite elderly, and ultimately fades away into oblivion as the clock strikes twelve.

He only lives one day.

While all three spirits have something to teach Scrooge, Christmas Present has the most to teach all of us. He only lives today, because today is all that we have. Now is all that we have. There is no future, because when we get there, it’ll just be now. There is no past, because it’s … well, because it’s past. There’s only now, today, this moment, and when it’s gone, it’s gone – just like the spirit of Christmas Present.

Christmas Present lives for today. And while watching the Spirit age and vanish, Scrooge realizes that he needs to live for today too. When the Spirit of Christmas Future comes to show him his third lesson, all Scrooge is worried about is that it not be too late to start living for today. He wakes up with a changed heart, and realizes that it’s still today – it’s still Christmas, and the Spirits showed him hours of lessons in, basically, a moment. He does start living for today, and helping people today, and sharing and caring and loving today.

Because it’s always today. That’s where our lives are, where our love is, where our kindness is, where everything that happens, happens. It’s where we make our mistakes, and where we correct them; it’s where we laugh and cry and sleep and dance and hug and eat and everything else. It’s where we’re young, and where we’re old.

We only live today.

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The Thing I Like About …

28 Weeks Later: the message of hopelessness.

The sequel to 28 Days Later has good acting, a reasonable premise, and excellent special effects. It is a fine entry into the zombie-apocalypse genre. I can find nothing to dislike about it; in fact, the scene in the pitch darkness, when the audience can hear Rage moving from one side of the crowd to the other, is extremely effective.  The film is … just fine.

But I didn’t really like it.

I didn’t like that they broke the quarantine and spread Rage to Europe. I didn’t like that the child was a target. I didn’t like how Cillian Murphy wasn’t in it, but that’s probably just me. I didn’t like the hopelessness that they snatched out of the jaws of triumph.

Until I considered that maybe that was the point.

Jim, Selene and Hannah have to face extraordinary loss, hardship, and heartache to survive the first film. They have to carve love and family out of a decimated world … and they do that. They do that. They allow themselves to feel love and joy again, and they are rescued, going to a new life in (based on the accents of the pilots who find them) the U.S. or Canada. They have to let go of everything – literally everything – that they ever had or knew or cared about, in order to survive and thrive in a new reality.

In 28 Weeks Later, everyone decides that you can go back again. They decide that you can ignore reality and linger in a nostalgic past; you can have everything be the same as it was, even after it changes. They decide that all that stuff we learned in the first film is basically poo. And the consequences?

Death, despair, hopelessness, chaos, and outbreak.

The entire second film revolves around blowing up London (which looked totally amazing!) and reminding us why we were happy with the ending of the first one: Jim and Selena and Hannah move forward. They let go of things that are, well, already gone. They allow change, and movement, and newness. They live now. The people in the second film … do not. They’re trying to recapture a past that died six months ago when that girl let the monkey out of the cage. They’re living in that past, and they become as dead as it is.

After seeing 28 Weeks Later, I imagined Selena and Jim and Hannah sitting in Toronto or Texas or somewhere, watching the news about the destruction of London and the outbreak in France … and shaking their heads, and saying, “F’ing morons.”

“You can’t go back again.”

The Thing I Like About …

Pulp Fiction:  the fact that Vincent and Jules are alive at the end [spoiler alert].

Pulp Fiction is a movie based around vignettes; we watch one group of people and then another, followed by the intriguing bits where the vignettes intersect and stories come together.  Time isn’t a huge factor, and part of the coming-together moment is in figuring out the time-line of the things we’ve seen.

Vincent Vega gets killed two-thirds of the way through the movie by Butch Coolidge; he dies unceremoniously while coming out of the bathroom.  (In fact, all of the things that go wrong for Vincent in the film happen as he’s coming out of a bathroom.)  But then, just when we’ve emotionally moved on from his character and settled in to wrap up other characters’ stories, we go back to a point earlier in the day – Jules and Vincent are in the diner, discussing Jules’ retirement, and, after Vincent goes to the bathroom, thereby triggering the climactic scenes of the movie, he and Jules pick up their stuff and walk cheerfully out of the diner.  So Vincent is alive.  Again.

Humans are material creatures.  We exist in space, and we measure our lives by the linear progression of time.  But we don’t particularly like that.  We write countless stories of time travel and of mystical journeys to places outside the ordinary confines of material reality.  We write vignette-based stories that allow us to do the thing we can’t do in real life: we can stop the narrative wherever we want, and we can come away with whatever ending we choose, regardless of what’s happened “before”.

Vincent Vega comes back to life in Pulp Fiction, and walks away triumphant.  If he can do that, maybe we in the real world can at least accept that our pasts are only as definitive as we allow them to be – that at any moment we can rewrite where we’re going, no matter what’s happened – or what we’ve done – before.  All we have to do is pick up our stuff and walk out of the diner … and decide that we’re alive now.