October 8th, 2008

Beyond Unpleasantness

What is it with the unpleasant characters? Yesterday I finished a book, Finn, about Huckleberry’s father, not a pleasant character in Twain’s original, and certainly not in this book either. Also, last night, Brent and I saw Burn After Reading, a film in which there were almost no good guys and the best of the bunch, out of love for one of the film’s shallow women, gets shot and then hacked to death with a hatchet.

I’ve been thinking about both book and film. The book was better, not because there was anything likeable about Finn, but because it was extraordinarily well written. The book never excuses Finn’s behavior, but does put it in a context that makes him both pitiable and understandable.

The film, as a dark comedy, was more focused on exposing the nasty and routine evil of the human condition. Despite fine acting, creative plot, and good writing, I left feeling empty. There is nothing redemptive possible in modern life, in this film’s view, which is okay, because really there is nothing there to redeem.

I reject this view. There is, too, something good and hopeful and worthwhile in life. Sure, people are often vicious (in the old-fashioned sense of the word, having vices) and small-minded, but it is possible to open up to a more generous spirit, to look past the indulgences of the moment, to what is real.

Not easy, but possible.