Friday, January 29, 2010

Pirate Shmirate Redux

I saw the movie Pirate Radio today, which is the European-release title of The Boat That Rocked. I posted a few months ago on what it appeared to be, based on the trailers. The comment on the film trailer was really just a jumping-off point for a rant about the ease with which myths of rebellion (especially the confluence of social/cultural/historic/demographic conditions known as "The Sixties") are used to flatter ourselves that partying is the same as pursuing social justice.

As it happens, the movie (I mean the movie itself as a story and as entertainment, never mind what it brings to mind about the real world) is... not bad. It's not great, it might not even be good, but it's not awful either.

I do have my beefs with it, chiefly the portrayal of the British government minister assigned to shut down the offshore rock 'n' roll station. This guy starts out as a stock stick-up-the-keister Face Of Authority right out of a Twisted Sister video or Police Academy XII, and becomes a figure of such cartoonish callousness and evil it sort of demolishes his credibility as a person and therefore as a villain. (It doesn't help that his chief hatchet man is actually named Twat.)

In his last act as Villain, he actually orders his underling NOT to send boats to rescue the crew of the sinking radio station/ship, perfectly willing to condemn them to freezing death in the North Sea. I'm not a maritime lawyer but I'm pretty sure this would be among the most serious breaches of international law, not to mention basic human decency, on the books. This kind of abrupt levelling-up from Officious Prig to Indirectly Murderous Motherf**ker is a really clumsy breach of tone for what is supposed to be a comedy.

But one saving grace--and the reason I'm bothering to post on it at all--is one knife-in-the-heart scene by Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's a scene that is so poignant and insightful and full of truth that it makes all the rest of the nonsense worth sitting through.

Hoffman, the rock 'n' roll pirate hero at the top of his game, sits on the deck and confesses the thought that has been tormenting him for months, which is: These are the best days of our lives. Everything that comes after will be a letdown.

Maybe, he concedes, the kid will get lucky and even better things are in his future. (The line is delivered with a particular blend of weariness, hope and mendacity. In an age when there are so few true markers indicating that we have moved from one stage of life to another, maybe this is one of them: The first time you have to tell a half-truth to someone younger, in order to temporarily shield their hopes from the crushing that yours have already endured.)

But, there it is: This is as good as it gets. From now on, every day will be better than the next. We fear it is true and hope it is not, but there comes a time when there's just too much evidence to deny. Personally I'm not there yet, but I know that moment is out there.

In the end, this is what storytelling is for: it reminds us that in all the awful things we fear and will have to face someday, including our own personal extinction, we are not alone. That a fictional character has spoken our fears means that a real person shares them.

It's not much but in the cold black waters of the North Sea, you'll gladly cling to anything.

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