Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Monday, July 07, 2003

Failure of the Day: T, Various

For starters, I'll warn you that I'm going to divulge the big T3 spoiler in a few paragraphs. I liked the movie; and not just because it touches on a topic that obsesses me some: the presence and lack thereof of the future in a person's life. I also liked it because of a particular pet peeve of mine in movies: the "Whew, that was close" resolution. That's why I like The Stand so much despite its inherent dopiness—almost everybody really does die. No Dustin Hoffman saying 'Well, that could have been much worse." I hate that. I couldn't care less about disaster narrowly asserted; I want full-on catastrophe and a death toll in the billions. It seems like a cop out if, after the virus gets out of the jar or the madman gets the bomb codes, everybody gets to go back to their normal lives. People getting their happy, healthy future back makes me mad.

It occurs to me that these two items—the existence/non-existence of the future and an appreciation of realized disaster are not particularly unrelated. I'm transparent as all hell, I realize. The part of me that embraces nihilism as a means to achieve a version of optimism still remains. It's not even a particularly arcane thought: if things are as bad as they can possibly be, your outlook is bright by definition. Of course, things are rarely as bad as they can possibly be, but when they are, that's when I get interested.

In T3 (and T1 and T2, for that matter) the whole point of the hero's actions were to prevent the nuclear holocaust that kills half the world's population and gives rise to the Machines. In T1 and T2, they succeed. Whew, that was close. In T3, they don't. The movie ends with most of the earth being destroyed—it was inevitable after all. All the other movies managed to do was postpone it. And what that does is give John Conner his future back. Not the future he hoped to create, but the one he was trying to avoid: his real future. He had been aimless without it; after they destroyed whatever that company was at the end of T2 that was supposedly responsible for the rise of the machines, he had 10 years of trying not to believe in the future the terminator told him was coming. Not believing in the future—even a horrible one—is grueling work, believe me.

I know, the ending of the movie can be written off as an obvious way to make a half dozen more Terminator movies that don't require the services of a guy who would rather be bankrupting the state of California with selfish and irresponsible recall elections. But it was more than that to me. It gave me what I like best (death on a truly enormous scale) and on top of that, it was a nice peek at the inherent optimism and relief of accepting catastrophic failure as your destiny.

And oh, yeah, some stuff got blowed up.


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