Tuesday, November 25, 2014

One Day, One Room

"And so, as kinsmen met a night
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips
And covered up our names"

Emily Dickinson

Note: This post is about story endings. Dragon Age, Arrietty, 10 Items or Less and an episode of House, M.D. Consider yourself spoiled...

The fictional concept of the life-changing chance encounter intrigues me. In this case I don't mean encounters which then balloon into a full-blown social contract of some sort. I mean those plots in which two people meet, have a conversation or three, then walk away having contributed only (or at least mainly) to each others' personal growth. In some of the best cases it's not even obvious whether anything has changed, given the personality type prone to such shifting depth of character. After all, for most humans, this setup of two people, usually male / female, finding someone with whom their very being resonates, is understood as a sign to form a lasting, binding association. It's usually just a pretext for a proposal scene.

Yet some will not be bound.

It was entirely fitting, for instance, for Morrigan from Dragon Age to abandon the player in the end credits. Morrigan the witch of the wilds, the shifter, the Proteus which cannot be held tightly enough to pin down, transcends the petty rom-com "melt the ice queen" trope and by the end, whatever might bind her to the player it's nothing compared to freedom itself, to the wonders such a personality always sees beyond the horizon. You have learned from each other. Now learn apart from each other.

It is fitting sometimes for fairytale protagonists to live happily ever after... apart. Studio Ghibli had given us some ambivalent partings in the past, but Arrietty broke out of the "ever after" routine so elegantly, so naturally that it forces one to realize how forced a truly Hollywoodized ending would have been. Had this been a standard Disney flick, the hero would have found a way to shrink himself down to borrower size and quo his status to the cute girl under the floorboards. In fact, Wikipedia informs me that Disney tacked on an extra monologue to their American release of the movie, reassuring their emotionally fragile audience that everything turned out alright. Sick. Pathetic. Idiotic. I've never read the books but as far as the movie went, within the context of that wistful discovery of a clandestine world in the interstices of the human one, within the atmosphere of half-glimpsed magic, there seems to be no room for the assumption that two teenagers can change the world. Arrietty and Sho are strong persons, and that strength includes the ability to incorporate the knowledge of each other without breaking their own personalities. That they walk away from each other of their own accord, even with tears in their eyes, is a greater lesson to any young mind than the idiotic Disneyed assumption that the universe must adjust itself to fit their wish-fulfilment. This was the story of their encounter. The rest of their lives remains external to that story.

"This is our pact: we live, we work, we're just getting started... we'll never see each other again."
Thus ends 10 Items or Less. When the world seems to have lost all you would keep, when you've already worn out whatever you thought you had at your core and you've already begun to deconstruct your life, what are the odds of running into someone who inspires you to keep moving? If you did, would you have the strength to walk away? The two characters empower each other, but there is no room in each other's lives for the other's world. Most would disagree and would have them alter their place in society to suit each other. The protagonists are not most people. For strong individuals like Freeman and Vega's characters, each too-powerful influence in one's life is a threat to that life itself, to the fragile individuality which is existence.

Few pop-culture figures have exemplified this like Doctor House. In his role as a modern Sherlock Holmes, in his self-destructively obsessive pursuit of truth, his antisocial skepticism, innate distrust and his outright egocentrism, House was the prototypical angry nerd for a generation.Yet individuality does not preclude the existence of other individuals, and the show's writers took care to provide House with many encounters with other interesting one-shot characters to play off of. To me, the most emblematic drove the episode One Day, One Room. Much of the credit goes to the actress' intensity in portraying a philosophically antithetical kindred spirit, an equal and not simply a foil for House as most patients and underlings were. This episode, unlike most others, gave us a battle of will and intellect, an existential debate snuck into television's lowest-common-denominator torrent of pablum.

They're a perfect match, but they're not the type to match. Life goes on, and life is individual, independent. Integrity is life. House ceased to be House when he stopped being the type to close the door on a day like that one, and that's when I stopped watching the show: when they began to humanize him. Inhuman, statuesque coldness has created some of the most interesting characters we'll ever read, watch or play. They represent an inhuman ideal, higher and more grandiose than anything to which social apes aspire, and we should celebrate them while they're still being written, because every House eventually gets locked away in a mental institution to get normalized, Ghiblis always get bought out by Disneys and Morrigan will never draw as many fans as Lara Croft. The world is still sliding downwards and these are just little pebbles caught in the mudslide of pop culture.


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