Novels And Films As Suicide Intervention

I can’t really keep you from killing yourself, besides which, I am more or less in the camp of Schopenhauer, who is of the strong opinion that offing yourself can be a perfectly reasonable call.

Many thinking people, observing the current cultural and political landscape as the lost masterpiece by a celebrated Theater of the Absurd auteur, might rightly consider the remedy of self-deliverance. Indeed, with the nation seemingly under successful onslaught by the crude materialists, dim crackers, hateful bigots, rancid philistines, callous fools, obnoxious jackasses, and legions of the non compos mentis and morally bankrupt, a book or a movie may be the only thing standing between you and a bucket of Seconal.

The Nazis are marching through the streets of Paris and Obama has accepted the Presidency of the Vichy government. Sometimes you just need a break.

To some large or incredibly minor degree all of the recommendations are political in nature or subject matter, with the idea being that besides being artistically successful entertainments, they may serve as effective antidotes to the muck of  the current unpleasantness.

The Films

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN – Based on the Woodward and Bernstein book, under Alan Pakula’s stellar direction, it takes you back to the good old days when powerful Republican charlatans who lied their brains out got their due comeuppance. A great film on every level: suspenseful and even informative. This was back in the era when America still had a press on the side of truth, justice and the American people… and unintimidated by the glowering reactionary powers that be.

DR. STRANGELOVE – House Republicans are arguably crazier than anybody in this movie, though here at least they are publicly ridiculed. It is entirely possible the final scene with Slim Pickens will vicariously satisfy your death wish. Funniest movie since the beginning of time.

REDS  – Warren Beatty made perhaps the only big-budget Hollywood film ever made about public intellectuals and the bohemian life of thinkers, activists and artists. Spending time with politically and artistically engaged people in Greenwich Village in the early Twentieth Century is a pretty decent respite.

MALCOM X – Denzel is brilliant playing a black man with a natural understanding of how to put the fear of god into intransigent shitheads. Spike is on his game.

M.A.S.H. – The opening song, “Suicide is Painless” really hits the spot. This is a brilliantly executed demonstration of how to cope in a dangerously absurd environment, the key to which is along the lines of Hunter S. Thompson’s admonition that “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

THE WAR ROOM– This is another nostalgia trip, a documentary about the 1992 Clinton campaign, telling the story of Democrats not only practiced in the art of the bare-knuckles, but eager to fight and relishing every single day. You don’t negotiate with terrorists, you steal their issues and punch them in the face.

BURN AFTER READING– This under-celebrated Coen Brothers film is brilliantly conceived, plotted, acted and directed. It renders absurdity in Washington, DC hysterical rather than lethal.

AFTER HOURS – Scorsese’s 1980s night in hell in Soho. If you’re feeling not entirely up to the moment, this presents a more familiar and manageable kind of assault: bat guano crazy chicks and people overdosed on hipster pills.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS – Don’t get mad, get even.

The Novels

“Mother” by Maxim Gorky – Set in prerevolutionary Russia, this tale of brutality and oppression, and the bravery of overcoming it is a genuine classic of Russian literature. Sure, the opportunists and anally retentive eventually turned the revolution into an authoritarian nightmare. But its heart was in the right place initially.

“Bread and Wine” by Ignazio Silone – While the story centers around a socialist hiding out in disguise from fascists in Italy, its real story is one of humaneness transcending ideology. It is rich with living, breathing characters, whose very specific time and place is both compellingly and sublimely rendered.

“Extinction” by Thomas Bernhard – Set in a small town in the author’s native Austria, it is a crash course in the kind of bitter invective appropriate for living in a world of ascendant rubes, hypocrites and falsifiers of history.

“The Book of Laugher and Forgetting” by Milan Kundera – A primer on how to have some laughs even under the thumb of a brutal dictatorship. 2012 approaches, so read it while you can, literally.

“Under the Volcano” by Malcom Lowry – This novel has all my favorite subjects, fascism, drinking…well, all right, so my interests are limited. One of the greatest novels ever written in the English language by the way.

“The Horseman on the Roof “– by Jean Giono- The pantheist stylist Giono is always worth reading just for his singularly warm and levitating prose. This is a flamboyant, adventurous tale set among a deadly cholera epidemic. The political and cultural metaphors are there for the taking, but the book is a beautiful read either way.

“The Caseworker” by  George Konrad – This is the first novel by the great Hungarian writer Konrad, and set in Budapest, it details the frustrations of a well-meaning government bureaucrat committed to doing good. There is nothing sentimental here,  and it presents another very time specific place with extraordinary realism.

“A Wild Sheep Chase” by Haruki Murakami –It’s one of Murakami’s very best, and typically, presents a world as screwy as any, but pleasantly so. There may be a right-wing sheep involved. Whatever. Murakami always pleases.

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