And the trailing Parlor Discourse on The End of the Male Narrative in The Road

Whew! Three discourses at once in the service of a single axe to grind! Turned out to be quite a load of thinking and this writing is longer than I’d want.  Probably you too.  But it’s done now, with this last on The Road.  The other two on No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood follow below in July’s posting.   I thought this on The Road would be the least of the three, but it turned out to be the most arduous.

The Road

Death is ever present in this story.  As if we might get used to our mortality if we could just rub our noses in it enough.  And rolling an emotion over in our minds, this speaking of what frightens us is, of course, a function of Story.  To a point.  Beyond, it becomes abusive.  And signals the end of, well, the road for this narrative way.

This story opens in warm color with trees, flowers.  The beautiful wife and mother makes eyes at us.  We realize this is a dream as we wake to a nightmare of screams and fires burning.  And then a second waking to something worse.  We’ve been cast out into a dark, grimy night with a father and his frightened son set against each day more grey than the one before.  A cold and growing colder world dying in this stark telling of humanity’s apocalyptic end.  All we’ve given ourselves from our technological master culture useless now, feeding only destruction.  We stand stripped down to primal us, that carnivorous, at any moment potentially homicidal animal we can never shake.

It is always this, back to our oldest, desert stories, at core about the evil within us, part and parcel, the molten source of violence toward ourselves, one another, the earth and all its creatures.  And although we’re still in the habit of displacing our origins anywhere but where they belong, with this generous planet, still the seed of doubt’s been sown that the human animal, without excuse of deity, is not worth saving.  This story asks in its nostalgic search for the good old days of a simple moral code, why not make a clean sweep of it all?  Set the world and unworthy us to waste?

In this underworld the mother is outside the action, contained safely in the backstory and entirely within the man’s memory.  By not wanting to give birth, not wanting to contribute life to a dying world, by wanting to kill her son when she kills herself, she throws in with the forces exterminating life.  The one who gives life becomes a threat to it.

This leaves all the life force in the story to the father.  Salvation rests on the single, driven, sacrificing man, fighting alone against our patrimony of destruction and violence to save the one and only son.  Woman’s reduced to a symbol of all that’s lost.  A void.  Empty.  Out of the action and of no use.  Certainly no partner in this fight to the death.  And life?  Our great grasp-of-spark in the infinity of dark?  Reduced to curse.

What of those loose ends, those thrusts of faith into the future made by animal us, our children?  In this tale’s bleak picture, the son must carry the Reason for Survival.  What a weight!  And with that not quite believable chance of escape for him at the last possible moment this male narrative dead ends, wanting to have it both ways.  Wanting to convince us the human animal’s so evil we aren’t worth saving and at the same time pushing forward some thin hope that out of nowhere salvation will materialize.  After such vivid depiction of our self imposed disaster, this meager reprieve.  This tethered  leap of faith.  It’s like saying there’s always another earth we can destroy, a new land (we can take from others) over the horizon, that we aren’t in fact responsible for our actions after all.  That we will be, somehow, saved, a single good piece of us, a boy.  By one of the “good guys” emerging from the mist.  To carry the fire.

The overt male will for survival is essential to us.  Perseverant.  Elemental.  In itself, a good.  How far along this human road it’s helped to bring us, and with it a flood of fine narratives in testimony.  But now, at the spinning end, the ante ups.  And ups again, tightening in one of the favored defaults of the male narrative, a piling on of adversarial action to the extreme.  Can our man endure beyond the limits of the flesh as punishment rains down on him triggered by that ancient conception of our physical being, not as gift, but as sinful, a priori.  “Takes a long time to die of starvation.”   Indeed.

The narrative gamble here is that if violence and death in all its horrifying, state of the filmic art detail is set before us it will force us to fully feel and appreciate life.  Death makes life, life.  This tactic intends to set in motion the clarity that comes when every thing good is scarce, when all men are absolutely alone and under threat of extinction.  Only then, the logic goes, will we truly appreciate each precious breath.  Perhaps.  But I wonder, can the odds we set against ourselves get too great?  In this piling on, this upping the narrative ante, aren’t we made to wonder if it’s better to never feel at all, discouraged to ever risk the connective tissue of love?  In fact, wouldn’t it be better to never have been born “if the road you followed led to this?”  The mother kills herself, the painful end of the father sobbing, on that beach, declaring his love for the boy but unable to endure any longer as life leaves him, his worst nightmare fulfilled, that he’s leaving the boy to go on alone.

Story, like all our complex human processes, evolves, mutates, responds to environmental influence.  It runs the risk of developing tolerance just like any other organic substance. And here there’s a tolerance to an ever increasing use of violence just to feel alive.  Instead of offering cautionary tales calling us to life, this narrative succumbs to a habit of violence to force that arc of energy, that synapse of feeling across the territory between beings that is a fundamental search and purpose of our stories.  We humans can not live without this exchange.  We must have it one way or another.  But like fossil fuels, or sugars, violence as a conduit of this exchange burns hot, with all the risks of fire.  And within this story, taken to the most indigestible extreme, it mirrors the fate of violence itself as a method for feeling life in the End of the Male Narrative.  Both for Story and for our world, these are dead ends.

I guess, rather than pray for some miracle rescue by the good guys, I’d rather explore other ways for this exchange, this necessary arcing – with love, just for example.  I’d rather set my shoulders straight ahead to do the work of comprehending animal us, in all our aspects, lurid and fantastic, including our will to violence.  And keep and build my faith in our capabilities, themselves quite, well, miraculous.  Worth treasuring, this evolving animal we are that got us to this parting in the road.  This chance in no chance.  And yet, here we are.  Yes.

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