Mad Max: Fury Road and Apocalypto are two awesome movies. Strangely connected by Mel Gibson. He was the original Mad Max and then he directed Apocalypto. One great feature of both movies is the idea of chase, and flight. In both cases, just about half the movie is chasing/fleeing at high speed. In Apocalypto, the chase is on foot through a jungle, in Mad Max it is with vehicles through a post-apocalyptic wilderness.
Both feature religion in fascinating ways. In Apocalypto you get the full force of the Inca religion and then it runs smack into Catholicism, literally. There's a great scene at the end. Here it is.
(Stop at the 1:35 mark or go on to the end)
In Mad Max, they mix in different religious elements including, Valhalla, the Nordic after life. When the War Boys are about to die, they call out to the others, "Witness Me," and then then go out in a blaze of glory. We get the first taste of this in this following scene.
In the film, one of the War Boys is captured by Furiosa and Max who are fleeing their captors. Nux is spared and he joins them and one of the women with him takes to him. The plan is, along with the few others with them, to destroy the sole path through a natural stone arch and return the community and run it differently. But of course, things go wrong and it is clear that Nux is going to die. And so in that moment, in an absolutely fantastic scene, he calls out to the others to witness him.
When we think of death, there are two poles. On the one hand, we die alone. No one dies or can die with you or for you. That is the stark reality. On the other hand, we want people to share that death. But only if they want to. So only in a moment, when you are witnessed in death, is the cycle complete in a sense. Just as we're never born alone, when your death is witnessed, you don't die alone.
I recently did what I have never done before. I returned a Netflix movie before I was done watching it. What movie is this? You might ask. The Dying of the Light with Nicolas Cage. Well, you might say, this is not quality entertainment, and I would reply, I love movies and never said anything about "quality." So why did I give up?
One--lack of time.
Two--I vas seriously bored and unentertained Why? Because I knew how the movie was going to end. Huh? Why does that matter? You ask. We all know how movies are going to end. This is true, which is why I needed to figure this out.
Let's view the trailer first.
There you have it. I have to say that I'm a proud Nicolas Cage fan. Apparently among actors, he is regarded very highly (according to Wikipedia). So I am in good company.
Broad story--Nic Cage is a CIA guy who was tortured by a terrorist. The terrorist is presumed dead but Cage believes he is still alive. The terrorist guy, though, had a rare disease and is ailing and will soon die if he is still alive. Nic Cage (I know--his character) is also ailing from a mental disease caused by repeated trauma to the head--the torture session earlier. So you have these two old foes, who nature is killing, but Cage is bent on making sure nature does not subvert justice. So I think the unique angle here is that we don't have the sexy Tom Cruise mission impossible guy who is uber capable, but we have an ailing man who is deteriorating before our very eyes. We see the symptoms play out as the movie develops.
So, over the course of three days, I labored, 20 minutes at a time, to watch this film. Finally, I said, this is not going to happen. I had seen enough. I knew how it would end. With the help of his friends (one played by the remarkable Late Anton Yelchin) he would find this terrorist. There'd be some sort of confrontation and they both die but he gets the satisfaction of meting out justice. (I don't even have time to read the Wiki entry--that's valuable sandwich time.) My question for me is, do I not want to see someone deteriorate before my very eyes? I don't know. Seeing all his "moments" was getting very old and I just could not bear forty more minutes of him losing his temper, or forgetting where he was, or mixing words, etc. Could this be my inability to address human frailty and come to grips with the existential fact of my demise? That could be it, except that one of my favorite movies (besides The Chronicles of Riddick) is Wit.
Here's the trailer for Wit ( I couldn't find a real good one so I went for this. The other ones I found were essentially five minute summaries of the entire movie!)
Wit shows the progression of a devastating ovarian cancer on an English professor. She breaks the fourth wall and so we get these very funny, witty, and brilliant insights into the process. it does get heavy at the end and the viewer is not spared anything. You watch her deteriorate before your eyes and it is painful and hard to watch. From the start of Wit, it is clear that this will not be a happy ending, that we will not be spared the gruesomeness of being a "patient" of this sort, with all its attendant indignity. We know how it ends.
So why would I like this and not Nic Cages' film? Wit is a mirror and Dying of the Light is a blurry facsimile of the human end. Wit engages because it reflects possible truth. Dying of the Light is tedious because there's no real payoff at the end. You don't learn anything at the end (I know. I haven't seen the end. . . . I have a right to my opinion, so back off!)
With Dying of the Light you learn . . . (haven't seen the end so I don't know what you learn). With Wit you learn about the inherent indignity of being a patient. You learn about the perspective of the patient. You learn about what becomes important the closer you are to death.
One irony, as the English professor wastes away, she wants less of John Dunn's poetry, a difficult metaphysical poet, and wants more simplicity and wants to express herself in the most basic of terms. On the other hand, the film features a young resident who is a researcher and uninterested in clinical work. He was a former student of hers which creates an interesting and funny dynamic. But towards the end, her poetry class seems to have provided him the best paradigm for his work and you see the work of the Humanities cheating through and reframing his perspective.
So in the words of Dylan Thomas
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
In my current work in progress, Children of Clay, I use the word "euthanasia" a few times. A few critiquers have noted that I am using the word incorrectly. Euthanasia refers to "the practice of intentionally ending one's life to relieve suffering and pain" (Wiki).
I haven't researched the use of the word over the centuries but I did come across its use in the 19th century. John Henry Newman, a Catholic thinker, used the word "euthanasia" in its primary Greek form. In ancient Greek, "eu" means "well/sweet" and "thanatos" means "death." So euthanasia in its basic meaning is a "beautiful death." Newman described the death of one of dear friends this way, as a way to express that her death was saintly. He also was horrified that the word was being adopted to suicidal uses, closer to what we use today.
In Children of Clay, which features an alternate world, I use the word to capture the idea of a beautiful death. A death in which one is not passive, i.e., death does not choose you, but you choose death in order to ascend to the supreme deity.