Thursday, September 5, 2013

sometimes i wish i had a thousand lifetimes

There’s a song by Queen in the movie Highlander with the lyrics “who wants to live forever when love must die?” There’s more to life than love, obviously. But, I think sometimes love, or simply passion, not just for another person but for a thing, for an idea, for a hobby… for a movie even—that’s what makes life great. I’m actually tempted to side with Claire Bacha for a moment, to agree with the idea that it’s Phil’s love for Rita that drives him to make himself better. But, I don’t think it’s that specific. I think that the night Rita actually stays with him isn’t about Phil connecting with Rita, per se—and, this despite his speech to her as she sleeps—but about Phil connecting with anyone. On screen, this is the first time Phil is genuine and honest with anybody. I don’t think it’s vital that it be with Rita and be linked to the romantic plotline—I think that’s just part of the film ultimately being structured and sold as a romantic comedy—but rather that it could have been with anyone.

In other news, last night was the series finale of Futurama, an episode entitled “Meanwhile.” It involved a series of time loops and ultimately a single moment frozen in time. The time loop connection itself meant I would have to mention it (just like I should mention that last night’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart involved a reference to Groundhog Day in its segment “Groundhog Deja Clusterf@#k”) but there was much more to it than that. Futurama has often tended toward serious storytelling and actual emotion amidst its simpler, more comedic moments. SPOILERS ahead, so if you haven’t watched the episode yet, tread lightly, or rather, just don’t tread; go watch it, then come back. In this episode, the 10-second time loop is played for laughs—the Professor stealing Zoidberg’s $10 without him knowing, Fry looping over and over so as not to die after jumping off the Vampire State Building—and a little more seriousness—the loop kills the Professor at one point and Fry’s jump ends in his rather bloody death several times. But, ultimately, an episode that began with Fry’s realization that he cannot live without Leela culminates in a frozen moment when the time loop button is broken. Fry and Leela are left as the only ones not frozen and they arrange their wedding and go on a very long honeymoon. I’ll let Zack Handlen tell you about the montage that results, because he says it quite well in his review over at A.V. Club.

The highlight of “Meanwhile” is a lovely montage of Fry and Leela, now happily married, winding their way through an Earth that’s been frozen in time. It’s goofy, and a little silly, and it makes you think of all those moments you shared with someone special; of how awfully cruel time can be, to drag us forward when we’re not ready to leave, when all we want to do is hold hands and watch the sun fall into the evening sky. Fry and Leela get older, but the world doesn’t. They’re trapped in a single second, but they’re together, so there are worse places to be. And it’s like watching a favorite movie, or listening to a song, or reading a book, or watching a TV show, whether you’re alone or with someone who loves you—it’s having something you can return to so that even as you change and you decay and your teeth fall out and you start forgetting your phone number, the story remains. That’s what holds the world together: just stories.

There’s a great thought at the heart of that, and at the heart of the sequence in Futurama’s final episode—if you’re with a good friend or family, or a lover or a spouse, then can you ever be “trapped” anywhere? When life is good, when you’re having fun, there is no trap. No time loop can ruin it, for sure. Phil Connors’ trap, though, was in who he was, incapable of being honest and genuine and real with anybody. He was a collection of jokes, usually at the expense of others, and ego. Maybe it was death that made him see things differently. Maybe it was life. But, I think after the “god” scene, he gets to spend a real day with Rita, and I actually wish we got to see more of it. We see them walking in the snow on Gobbler’s Knob, then cut to Phil’s room late that night. Did he take her to see Heidi II? Did they go to the fudge shop again? Did they spend time at that restaurant like before? Did they work together on “good deeds” like he does later, maybe help the folks at Tony’s to avoid that grease fire?

(For new readers or inconsistent readers, that last one is a reference to the original screenplay.)

In last night’s Futurama, Fry and Leela backpack around the world, marking off a checklist of places they’ve kissed. They walk across oceans, see the world, and grow old together. Phil and Rita throw some cards into a hat. Maybe if he’d at least taken Rita to the Groundhog Banquet they could have danced together. But, then, the romance is put off for the end of the third act. In Futurama, the romance is saved for the final act, a sweet series of scenes of Fry and Leela getting older together, doing silly things like using their friends’ frozen bodies to make a swing, and they are never shown to regret their time together or their time without anyone else. In the end, when the Professor shows up to reset things, and their whole time together will be reversed, Fry asks Leela, “what do say, want to go round again?” Her response: “I do.” Maybe things will go as they went before. Maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll be better. Maybe they’ll be worse. Handlen makes an interesting observation, that without knowledge of the loop, “if you think about it, there’s no real reason that all of this won’t happen again. Maybe what we’re looking at in ‘Meanwhile’ is the most genial apocalypse imaginable, and the end of the world coming as not a bang, or a whimper, just a loop.”

What better way is there for the world to end than with two people walking the world and growing old together?

Romantic love may not have always been a part of human culture, but it has become central to so much of what we do in the modern world. Stories that have nothing to do with romance (e.g. Groundhog Day, arguably) find focus in romance and love along the way. Relationships drive our drama and our lives. And, it’s not even all romantic love, like I said at the top of this entry. Love can connect us to anything. Another article on A.V. Club today involves comedian Sarah Silverman’s obituary for her dog and it’s a sweet and sad story of a pet she had for 14 years—“My longest relationship,” she says near the end. “My only experience of maternal love. My constant companion. My best friend.”

Rita thinks everyone wants “career, love, marriage, children” but I think it’s much simpler. We want a purpose (and maybe to leave our mark) and we want companionship. That companion doesn’t have to be a human, I suppose, and that purpose doesn’t have to be a career. It certainly helps if all this stuff combines, if our career can be something we love, something that gives us purpose. If we have kids, our live can get wrapped up in them as well, in their purpose, the mark they will leave on the world, whether or not they find companionship and love and a passion for someone or something that drives them to live each new day.

I don’t think I’d ever really want a thousand lifetimes, but one good one would be great.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to experience everything anew, for everything to be fresh and exciting, nothing stale or played out.

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