Hollywood seems to be scared of death. Apart from a few films scattered over the years the film industry’s centre seems to shy away from exploring our mortality.
Don’t get me wrong they love nothing more than showing people getting killed. There is plenty of guts, gore, shooting and exploding but when it comes to stories which deal with mortality they seem to avoid them like syringes in a playground.
Then they throw out happy stories with fairy-tale endings to push the message that life is always good in the end. No matter what bad things happen the hero will always prevail, the good guys will always survive and the bad guys will get what’s coming to them.
Even two great films from modern times have happy endings wedged onto them where they don’t belong. In the book of Fight Club the protagonist dies in the end but in the film he shoots himself and survives. Ending with the main character committing suicide is something which would turn the stomachs of Hollywood executives.
In The Dark Knight Rises Batman should have died. It would have been a much better ending. Towards the end where you think he has died it really hits you emotionally and brings closure to the whole trilogy. It would have been brilliant; the selfless hero giving his life so that the city he loved could be saved. It wouldn’t have been a happy ending but it wouldn’t have been an altogether sad one either. It would have been satisfying. The city is at peace and now too is Batman. It would have made him a true hero.
But then miraculously (stupidly) he’s still alive! O, praise the saints! Everything is good with the world and heroes never die.
People say sad things are depressing and they don’t want to be depressed. Yeah, some things are sad but great art can show you that no matter how sad something is there is always something beautiful and valuable to be taken from it.
Happy endings are good when they are right. Each story is different and the creator must make the decision of what he is going to go for based on each individual story. The Lord of the Rings has a happy ending and it is the right ending for that story. Changing the ending to suit a particular viewpoint only cheapens an otherwise enriching experience.
But films about ordinary people asking simple questions about life and death terrify people and Hollywood executives. It’s a fact that people are more comfortable paying and sitting down to watch a film where young girls get violently ripped apart by psychopaths than something which shows someone saying, “One day I will die; probably not from a knife to my stomach or a zombie apocalypse. It will be quiet, I will be old. One second I will be breathing and the next I will not.” That is much more scary.
Woody Allen, one of the few in Hollywood to address mortality (and look at his work if you want an example of cinematic quality), was panned by critics and hated by fans over Stardust Memories. A film which explores the fact that nothing lasts and no matter what you do or how great you become in your life one day your name will be forgotten and your work will disappear.
Maybe Hollywood’s problem with films about mortality lies in the fact that people just won’t pay to see films which make them think of death. People can say Hollywood is essentially a business which has to make money like any other but I don’t buy that excuse. All artists have a responsibility to explore human nature and show it as truthfully as they can no matter how uncomfortable and terrifying it sometimes is.
People hate to think about their own death. We ignore it and hold onto a tiny, stupid hope we know is false that somehow we are special and will live forever. Well, if a lion is running straight for you, you can close your eyes and pretend nothing’s going to happen but he’s still going to rip your head off.
Hey, then again maybe Hollywood’s right. Maybe people are right. Maybe it is better to ignore our mortality and live everyday thinking everything is going to be ok; we’ll live forever and when bad things happen we’ll make it through in the end.
I would say no. Not because I think everyone should be depressed all the time but because sometimes pain breeds pleasure. In exercise you hear the phrase ‘no pain, no gain’. The same is true of life and the brain. In exercise you go through pain knowing eventually you’ll be better for it.
If we think about our mortality we will suffer but then maybe we can accept it as another part of our lives. We can know every day that we will die and maybe that will make us appreciate the time we’ve got here more.
Art should help us explore human nature and our emotions honestly and that’s what great art does. By basically ignoring our mortality Hollywood, the place which supplies the world with its most popular stories nowadays, is doing the world a disservice.
By thinking we will live forever we can make the mistake of never living. We need to be reminded that life is precious and short. That we must get up in the morning and do the things we want because we won’t be here forever. We might not make it through in the end. The problem for Hollywood is that if we did that we probably wouldn’t waste so much time watching films.