Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mindshot: Seize the Day/Where the Wild Things Are

My ninth grade English teacher loved books.  She loved books so much that she'd tell us every morning about whatever story she was involved with over the last twenty-four hours.  One story that stuck with me was called Angle of Repose. According to, the angle is, "the maximum slope, measured in degrees from the horizontal, at which loose solid material will remain inplace without sliding."  The arch-question that this novel presumed to ask was, 'exactly how much can a person take before they are overwhelmed by their misfortune.'  To laymanize; 'How much shit can you take before it hits the fan?'

Three years before Robin Williams would whisper "Carpe Diem" to the schoolboys of Welton Academy, he portrayed desperate salesman Tommy Wilhelm in the film Seize the Day.  Tommy was, by story's end, catapulted far past any semblance of repose.  He tumbled down the mountain of doom, and we watch every gratuitous, methodical centimeter of descent.  The key with any great tragedy, is to have hope until the bitter end.  Films that deprive us of hope, deprive us of meaning, and so we check out early.  It is human nature to hope.  We long to hope just as we long to live.  Seeing a person reach that moment just past hope, just past the angle of repose, is merciless.

When we enter Hell, Dante (the not me one) tells us to Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.  For some reason, it seems to me that such moments of hope abandonment come with a groping of one's own face.  

Some years ago, I experienced a push against the angle of repose (not me actually... per se).  Through an extravagant night of hyper-drama, I had lost my best friend.  He was checking out of my world -- the world we shared.  It was one of those nights in which you have a full sense of realization in the moment that come morning, everything would be different.  It was an end.  We knew it was final.  Even if he would change his mind and come back to us, he wouldn't be the same, and we would all look at him differently.  We were living an unstable existence, and it had to break.  

So it did.

I walked solemnly back to my dorm.  I walked slowly, still keeping some glimpse of hope that someone would stop me before I got home.  If I got home, if I made it back, well then I had to start facing the next day.  I didn't want morning to come.  Somewhat mercifully, I did hear my name shouted from behind me.  "Dante - DANTE!" 
That voice belongs to the friend's girlfriend -- who got to play the role of victim that night (don't ask which role I filled).  As I turned back and saw her running towards me, I realized that we shared this collective desperation.   Just as she reached me she collapsed and fell into sobs.  I've come to notice that the experience of loss of hope often comes with one putting their hands on their face.  

The final shot of Seize the Day is like a dry heave.  There's nothing left to give, nothing left to hope.  So it is for Tommy Wilhelm, as that angle finally tips past any chance of repose, that he no longer has a will to cry.  He laughs.

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