I recently watched for the first time Hal Ashby’s 1979 satire, Being There, which I found amusingly prophetic. Satire is so hard to do, and Ashby’s film does it fairly well, though it never achieves the scathing brilliance of Sidney Lumet’s Network, a film made just three years prior. In Being There, Peter Sellers plays a TV-obsessed idiot savant gardener who through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings becomes the toast of Washington D. C. For the most part, Ashby plays the satire light and bubbly, until the eerie closing scenes that become rich with overt symbolism and end with Sellers literally walking on water not knowing yet that he has been handpicked by the Masonic cabal to become the nation’s next political wunderkind.
Whereas Network envisioned a society in which reality TV runs amok, corporate fascism rules supreme, and Saudi Arabian oil money holds a controlling interest in American media and politics–sound familiar?– Being There paints a picture of America in the midst of an economic meltdown where a bumbling idiot is gifted the Presidency by the ruling class–wow, that could never happen. One of the funniest bits in Being There is when the media falls in love with Sellers’ Chauncey Gardner and considers him a breath of fresh air because he doesn’t read any newspapers. In fact, he doesn’t even know how to read or write. The public sees him as brilliant because he boils down the economic crisis to a simpleton’s terms by using a gardening metaphor. There’s also a great bit where his former caretaker (an elderly African-American maid) sees him on TV and proclaims, “That boy is as dumb as a jack-ass. This proves all you have to be is White in America and you get what you want.” In 1979 that was spot on, but, wait, have things actually changed?
Well, as we now have one idiot who didn’t read newspapers leaving office after eight horrendous years that produced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and another idiot who failed to get into Washington D. C. after being advertised as a breath of fresh air sweeping down from Alaska, we are about to inaugurate an eloquent African-American as our next President who has proven hard work can trump nepotism in a renewed America. It seems the era Being There warned of has already come to pass and it was even more horrifically funny than the film that prophesized it.
In the “done that” category, I finally read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. You know, The Road is one of those books everyone you know who reads has read and has been telling you, “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS”, but you didn’t read it until you heard it was being made into a movie. The Road is a grim tale of a father and son roaming a post-apocalyptic wasteland trying to survive. In this dark future, ash covers everything, charred bodies litter the landscape, most animals have become extinct, and marauding groups of cannibals pick off survivors one by one.
McCarthy crafts the novel in a stark, lean style meant to mirror the savage existence he describes. I found the fragmented sentences and unmarked dialogue hard to get used to, but the book moves at such a quick and horrific clip that it soon becomes easy to overlook the stylistic idiosyncrasies. Much of the storyline is repetitive: father and son search for food, father and son find food, father and sun run out of food, father and son search for more food, they stumble upon a cannibal here, a terrifying scene there, they find an idyllic shelter they only have to leave too soon out of fear–and many readers will find it frustrating that the apocalypse is never explained and the ending arrives all too conveniently. I also found the religious underpinnings to be overly simplistic.
Despite these flaws, The Road held me mysteriously captivated. It was the fist time since I was a child that I raced through a book in only two days. I don’t know if that speaks to the style in which the book is written or the power of its story. When I was a teenager, I was more inclined to enjoy these post-apocalyptic-sci-fi-horror-infused tales, and this would’ve been just the type of thing my immature mind would’ve loved. Now, I’m a bit more cynical and tied to the real world, and The Road seems like the relic of a juvenile past. I give credit to McCarthy, however, for delivering something that is completely unlike anything I’ve read in the past five years. It will be awhile before I fully digest his vision.
The film adaptation of The Road is set for an early 2009 release. It is directed by John Hillcoat, who was responsible for the grim Aussie Western The Proposition, and stars Viggo Mortensen.
Written by David H. Schleicher