Figuring out movie tricks, easy

This Just In...

figuring out life, that's puzzling

October 14, 2002|By DAN RODRICKS

I MANAGED to separate reality from paranoid hallucination in A Beautiful Mind during the car-chase scene, with Ed Harris behind the wheel of a black sedan, Russell Crowe his passenger, and Commie black-bag men shooting at them as they sped through the streets of Cambridge or Boston. That's when I understood the fine trick being played by the makers of the film.

No brag, that. I'm no puzzle master. I just knew that if commie agents had tried to kill a couple of Americans, including an MIT professor, during a spectacular car chase in the 1950s, the event would have made large news and held up as Cold War history. And I was unaware of anything like it having occurred.

Others who saw A Beautiful Mind might have recognized the director's trompe l'oeil earlier in the progress of the story. But the car chase did it for me - that's where the real world pulled away from the painfully schizophrenic world of the brilliant mathematician John Nash (played by Crowe).

I don't know about anyone else, but deciphering the cinematic code in A Beautiful Mind was a piece of cake compared with what happens almost daily in this so-called life of ours.

In this media-mad age of everything-all-the-time-everywhere - 24/7 news, infotainment and "reality TV" - it's all a mixed-up mess.

Death by terrorist-hijacked airliner in an office building, death by anthrax in the morning mail delivery, death by sniper while pumping gas, death in TV drama - we're not stepping across the line that marks reality from dark hallucination, we're straddling it.

Life is a Salvador Dali painting, with a CNN news crawl running along the bottom frame.

A couple of thumb presses on the TV remote and it's cops killing suspects in L.A. Confidential, (fine family viewing in the middle of the day) or real (we think) cops working a barricade situation on Fox, or Richard Sher, the Baltimore TV reporter, aiming a pistol at viewers to "dramatize" a news story about a convenience-store bandit, or the actor Tom Sizemore giving us his profane and grisly theory of how a young woman was murdered on CBS's latest contribution to television drama. (Great show name: Robbery Homicide Division. What's next? Homicide Robbery Division?)

Then, right next to all this comes Geraldo, to sensationalize the sensational and show us bloody, dead-body video of the Beltway Sniper's - that's what Geraldo calls him - latest victim. Too gruesome for ya? Quick, switch to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation! (Last week, a Washington television station apparently teased its 11 o'clock news report on the sniper by referring to "real-life CSI investigators.")

A relative told me she was "fascinated" by the sniper story.

This is a person who lives about 500 miles from where it is a reality. She is distressed by the story but finds it compelling, as if it were an episode of NYPD Blue. (Supposedly, Baltimore's own Homicide had an episode involving a sniper. I can't say from personal knowledge, having stopped watching the show early in its parallel run with Baltimore's epoch of real violence.)

It has been said that the sniper killings "hit home" because victims have died where a huge part of America lives - in the suburbs - doing the mundane things of everyday life.

But, as much as we're appalled and made anxious, there is a psychological disconnect, even with this new nightmare in our midst, because we've all been drenched in images of death and violence for too many years.

I know this sounds like another anti-television rant, but I don't care. I no longer dismiss as overly simplistic the notion that violence (in film, television and video games) begets violence (in real life).

The Zapruder film once shocked the nation, but in the four decades since the Kennedy assassination, the impact of that horrific reality has been compounded daily by images and stories, real and fictional, of humans engaged in brutal, stupid and psychotic behavior. There seems to be no end to how killers (either cinematic or real) try to top their predecessors in violent creativity.

Baby boomers had one foot in the earlier age, before Zapruder and cable TV and Geraldo, back when cowboys and soldiers of the cinema died bloodless deaths, back when news lived apart from entertainment and it was easier to separate the important from the trivial, the real from the fantastic.

Now it's one massive maw of information and images coming at us 24/7 - and new nuts and villains discovering new ways to use our technology, our way of life, our guns and our mass-market culture to either make some twisted point or make themselves famous. They are savvy and cynical. They know they have to be original to get air time. They know they have to take us to new frontiers to get our attention, and so here we are.

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