Darkness, Tragedy, Violence - Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Yeah, Rome is oh so violent. Lisa watched it with me for about five minutes and then decided it was not for her. There's that awesome battle scene, then whippings, stabbings, etc.

For me, that's not darkness, though. I don't find Rome to be at all dark.

To me darkness is about the bleakness of the world. People are stuck in situations where they have to choose between horrible and miserable, and sometimes they don't get to choose. In Deadwood, the innocents are slaughtered; everyone else is up for sale. (At least when I quit watching, they were.)

In Rome, people get killed all the time. But they get killed because of the consequences of their actions, not because the world is li'dat. It would be possible in the world of Rome to make sensible choices and live a good life. Even poor Glabius dies, not because he still loves his wife, but because he's stupid about it.

Darkness is also not the same as tragedy. I enjoy watching tragedies. But Hamlet doesn't die because he lives in a world of darkness. Hamlet dies because he passes up multiple opportunities to do his duty and kill Claudius, and also chooses to stick around instead of heading back to university. Macbeth creates his own destruction. In the end he is trapped, but in a cage of his own creation. Lear faces the consequences of his wilful blindness and foolishness.

On the other hand, there's a whole vein of well-crafted dark narrative where innocence is defiled and good intentions are punished because that's how the world works. Maybe there is a school of belief that people are too stupid or too wicked to save themselves. There are stories that end badly just because.

Tragedy is all about people bringing themselves down; the consequences are inevitable only because the hero insists on being who he is. When it could go either way, you're in the land of melodrama. (With the exception of perhaps Richards II and III, the history plays are melodrama, not tragedy.)

Personally I like happy endings. Partly because I've experienced any number of them; partly because I've seen enough pointless pain that I don't need to go to the movies to see more of it.

Take The Commitments. In the end, the band breaks up on the night of their big success. Why? Because they're Irish? I don't know. Because the screenwriter chose for them to break up. The movie would have been as emotionally truthful and as insightful and as dramatic with a happy ending. Perhaps the happy ending felt too "American," too Hollywood. But wanting to be cool and different isn't, I feel, a valid reason to pick a downer ending. Pick a downer ending if it is the logical outcome of the story, or if it goes with the territory. The Days of Wine and Roses or A Star is Born wouldn't work if everyone came out in good shape. But did the "up" ending of the theatrical cut of Bladerunner ruin the movie? I don't feel it did.

Darkness to me is about the absence of hope. To me, it's a perfectly good choice if that's where your head is at. Lots of people like their coffee black. But make sure despair isn't an emotional cop-out. Hope is much scarier than despair, if you think about it.

Everyone in Rome has hope; even Glabius goes down fighting.

So I'll keep watching.

Labels:

7 Comments:

Actually, I meant the 'dark' lighting and contrast ratios - but a good response anyway.

...kidding.

It was enlightening even.

By Blogger wcdixon, at 3:30 PM  

**Hope is much scarier than despair, if you think about it.**

Hope = freedom?

If so, then I agree.

By Blogger odo coileus, at 3:44 PM  

Count me in as a fellow geek. ROME makes demands on its audience while never being ashamed to throw in a crowd-pleasing moment -- a mix of high and low culture that the Romans themselves would probably have appreciated.

Ray Stevenson (Titus Pullo) just wrapped filming on my new show for the BBC and came to us straight from shooting on season two. I'm not even embarrassed to say that I cornered him at the read-through and wittered about the show until his eyes glazed over. And he knew what my favourite moment was going to be before I even said... but if you haven't reached it yet, don't let me spoil it.

All I'll say is, Thirteen...

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 6:03 PM  

Sometimes it is *really* hard to believe that you're one of the chosen people.

Or am I missing something? Was that time in Egypt all shits and giggles?

The Band in The Committments doesn't break up because they're Irish (though that probably would be enough of a reason, now that I think about it.) They break up because staying together was always untenable. And the band was never really the point. The struggle was the point. The Irish have always expected struggle; it's finding meaning in the struggle that's important. All our songs are sad and all our wars are glad. Well, except for the Troubles, which were just sad all round.

You know at the end each of those people are changed forever. And if the band couldn't stay together, ah, well, that's life, innit?

By the way, I hate to burst your bubble, but I tend to think it's pretty clear at the end of the Breakfast Club that none of those guys are going to stay friends, either.

The preference for happy endings is really the American in you. We're hardwired for them. We're an optimistic culture. Brits, French, Canadians...they aren't. At least not to the same degree.

But I LOVE YOU DANCING AROUND ABOUT HOW ROME ISN'T DARK. Spin your words, wordweaver.

There's another 30 years left in this argument, EASY. :)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:09 PM  

heehee - you guys are too smart for me. I'll just be over here trying to squeeze out another lame quip.

By Blogger wcdixon, at 6:23 PM  

I've never been in a band but I've had plenty of friends who have, and they've all followed the classic pattern -- one person drives it ands pulls everyone together, a kind of magic creeps in and the band self-sustains for a while, there's at least one gig that everyone will remember as a perfect moment, and then it all starts to come down like one of those pyramids of acrobats on a motorcycle.

Along the way, everyone gets pissed off at the singer for getting all the attention. The bass player feels underappreciated because, hey, I'm the one who drives the band along and no one ever seems to notice. Someone's partner demands that they choose... it's the band or me. There's a conflict involving someone who'd been there from the beginning but isn't that great a musician... everyone knows he's got to go but no one wants to tell him.

Everything matters and nothing lasts, I suppose is the big message.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 8:13 AM  

I felt the same way about OPEN WATER. Why did I spend all that time watching it if the girl is going to kill herself at the end?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:57 PM  

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