"The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate lies."
-- Jessica Lynch, former Army private whose capture by Iraqi soldiers was twisted into a heroic but utterly false story designed to rally the American public around the Iraq invasion.
Lynch testified this week at a Congressional hearing to determine how the "friendly fire" death of Army Ranger Patrick Tillman was also spun into a false tale of heroism for his family and the nation.
Of course these two soldiers are heroes. We never need lies to convince us of heroism. The truth is always enough. What the Bush administration and Pentagon officials did to Tillman and Lynch and their families is deceitful, unpatriotic, and business as usual. That they were aided and abetted by a passive lapdog media only adds to the insult. Glenn Greenwald puts the lies into perspective:
This is the sad and wretched process which has propelled our political system during the entire Bush presidency. The Bush administration creates falsehoods to manipulate public opinion and then feeds them to influential and prestigious media outlets.
Eager to be used, our most prominent journalists then repeat those falsehoods mindlessly and uncritically. Worse when it is revealed that what they were fed was false, they say nothing and continue to protect the identity of those responsible, in the hope that their "sources" will continue to use them.
Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans blocked any efforts to investigate any of these matters, while right-wing uber-patriot cowards and smear artists discredited those who sought to disrupt or expose any of this. Most significant political events in our country over the last six years has been the by-product of this rancid machine. The Tillman and Lynch cases are merely vivid illustrations of how that process has worked.
For much of the read, I was flatly floored by this sci-fi story. The concept is straight out of a B-movie -- our sun is dying and astronauts must deliver a gigantic bomb to re-ignite it. What elevates this script is the lively writing and clever exposition. It's a solid, suspenseful story that fires admirably on all cylinders ... with one exception, which I'll get to in a moment.
Sunshine is admirable in how it wants to illuminate a metaphysical connection to the universe. It may be but a weak echo of themes and emotions found in last year's The Fountain (itself a dilution of the cosmic epiphanies found in more accomplished stories like Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey) ... butSunshine's theme is clear: mankind is inextricably connected to the cosmos. We are not simply microscopic ants on the cosmic scale, creatures so infinitely tiny that the vast, cold universe takes no note of us. Human beings are capable of being just as awesome and powerful as the brightest of stars.
Ever hear that hokey old line from Carl Sagan about how we're all made of the same atoms, or "star stuff," found in suns and planets? Hokey it may be, but it's also stirring and humbling and very, very true.
Sunshine taps into that. It's smart, soulful sci-fi with an honest-to-gosh sense of wonder.
Until the climax.
Until the final third.
Those last thirty pages that make or break any and every screenplay.
Sunshine, just as it reaches an apogee few other genre films attempt, just when it should be spreading its wings and arms to claw the fire of the gods from the sky ... the damn thing turns into a slasher film.
It's heartbreaking. Mind numbing. Spirit crushing. And it hurts all the more for the grandeur that has passed before.
What I read was an early draft of Sunshine. I've spent three years hoping and praying that someone along the line would pull director Boyle and writer Garland aside to say: "Guys, listen, this is such a great story ... can't you think of a better, more innovative way to knock it out of the park at the end?"
Apparently not. The reviews are pouring in the from UK. Almost everybody praises this movie highly ... but many single out the ending as a most regrettable move on the part of the filmmakers.
Don't get me wrong. I'm still anxious to see Sunshine. Boyle's helmed some very good films like Shallow Grave, Trainspotting,28 Days Later and possibly my favorite of his, Millions. And Garland is clearly a writer to watch. And face it, if you put a damn spaceship anywhere in a movie, chances are that Clark's gonna buy a ticket.
But I'm gonna be wincing as I watch, because I know what's coming. What could have been. What, sadly, is.
What we're fascinated by is the inability of straight men to deal with their feelings for each other. Which is why things always end up in massive fights. The only way they can sublimate their affection is to turn it into destruction. Angel and Danny have this genuine, heartfelt love for each other, and when they're on the sofa together it looks like Danny's going to kiss him. So we do play with the homoerotic sense a bit. -- Simon Pegg, star and co-writer of Hot Fuzz, the funniest movie now playing at theaters near you
So, um ... why do the publishing and entertainment industries cringe and whine at the thought of calling anything science-fiction?
It doesn't make any sense, especially in Hollywood. Check out this list of top-grossing movies. How many would you classify as sci-fi or fantasy? I'd say at least 15 of the top 20 are genre films. So what gives?
A bad reputation, that's what. SF is considered, even by many of its fans, nothing more than a literary ghetto. In a way, that makes it a safe place to play with ideas because nobody's really watching ... unless you happen to achieve something serious. Then the rules change. Look at the Kurt Vonnegut novel generally regarded as his masterpiece, a story about a guy who is pulled randomly through time and is at one point (many points, actually) abducted by aliens.
"Ah, but that's metaphor," sniffed one memorable snob during a literature class I took many years ago.
Sigh. When you live in a ghetto, see, you're allowed to play with the toys, but once they start to signify things, you have to turn them over to the adults. Things can be metaphors but it doesn't mean they stop being what they actually, physically, concretely are. Yes, surviving the trauma of the Dresden firebombing can cause a person to feel untethered as life's random events pass them by. But listen: Billy Pilgrim is literally unstuck in time. The aliens are literally aliens. Only fools can pretend that Slaughterhouse-Five and 1984 and Frankenstein and Looking Backward and even Beowulf are, first and foremost, anything but genre works.
Back in the 90s, I decided to attend a graduate creative writing program. Here's how I quickly got over that bad idea.
My writing portfolio consisted mostly of several "mainstream" short stories. These were bland, listless stories of middle-class white suburban ennui where not much really happened. I didn't much like writing this stuff but I knew it was the preferred writing sample for academe. Style over plot -- way over. See, lots of creative writing professors read Raymond Carver and other minimalist writers from the 70s and 80s and, frankly, got stuck there. (Reconsidering that fiction today, I find most of it about as dated and ill-fitting as my old Members-Only jacket ... note to self: get that old thing to Goodwill, and pronto).
My literary portfolio also contained one sci-fi story set on the planet Mars. I knew in my gut that, while flawed, this was hands-down my strongest piece of writing.
One afternoon I got a phone call from the director of a major writing program in the southeast. He liked my work and thought I'd make an excellent addition to their program. But he refused to formally accept me until I resubmitted my portfolio without "that silly Mars thing." His acid condescension practically melted my telephone.
Sure, I could've churned out another derivative "mainstream" knock-off. But I asked myself: why would I wanna be in a program whose instructors would mindlessly belittle the stories I wanted to tell most? So I ditched those plans. Chose another path. Worked hard at it.
That "silly Mars thing," a couple of revisions later, landed me on the cover of a major science-fiction magazine alongside great writers such as Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Harlan Ellison. I got more readers and made more money off that one yarn than most "literary" writers will ever see in a lifetime (this I know because most of my literary friends said so, and with much envy, not just for the exposure and moola, but because many of them are closeted sci-fi fans). I thought about sending that program director a copy of the magazine but decided he wasn't even worth the postage.
My point? Do what you gotta do. Screw the labels. If somebody hates sci-fi but suddenly respects it if ya call it "speculative fiction" or "magical realism," remember that their delusions do not have to become yours.
Here's the big secret: deep down, 99 percent of us love this stuff. And we're always looking for the next good story to remind us why.
When I teach writing, I encourage my students to spend some time acting. Writers are supposed to get inside the heads of characters other than ourselves. Acting gives you so many opportunities to do just that.
Unless you're doing a one-person show, you get to work closely with other actors. Actors have a rep for being sorta crazy, but most of 'em I've known are smart as a whip. You get to see them figuring out a character who doesn't exist. They pore over the text looking for clues. Then they take their ideas and flesh them out. It's mesmerizing to watch something like that happen ... and even more magical if you get to try it yourself.
Now, getting up on stage is scary, especially if you think you're no damn good. And especially if you have to wear tights. That's never stopped me and I'm glad. However lousy I may have been in a play (and if you ever had to sit through one of my performances, hey, you probably shoulda known better, and sorry about them tights), those experiences definitely helped my writing.
I mean, sure I still love it, the acting part. When I’m deep in it. When the hubbub falls away and I’m doing what I do. All dressed up and
pretending I’m some half-mad, too tenderhearted, nineteenth- century preacher man, or an ego-filled, meth-fueled, dancing-prancing, darkhearted hillbilly, or the dumbest schmuck in Brooklyn ever to wear a cop’s wire. I mean, that’s to live for. It’s like you’re stepping out of yourself for a moment in time. Taking a break from you and your stuff. And at the same time, you’re animating somebody who didn’t exist before and you’re taking on all their stuff.
The late great Woody Guthrie, writing in one of his popular People's World columns about the 1940 movie adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath:
Seen the pitcher last night, Grapes of Wrath, best cussed pitcher I ever seen.
The Grapes of Wrath, you know is about us pullin' out of Oklahoma and Arkansas, and down south, and a driftin' around over state of California, busted, disgusted, down and out, and a lookin' for work.
Shows you how come us to be that a way. Shows the dam bankers men that broke us and the dust that choked us, and comes right out in plain old English and says what to do about it.
It says you got to get together and have some meetins, and stick together, and raise old billy hell till you get youre job, and get your farm back, and your house and your chickens and your groceries and your clothes, and your money back.
Go to see Grapes of Wrath, pardner, go to see it and don't miss.
You was the star in that picture. Go and see your own self and hear your own words and your own song.