Strange Bacon’s Philosophical Marathon, Part 1: The Sunset Limited

Strange Bacon bannerIn a somewhat shorter marathon, I’ll be taking a significant interest into the films that transcend the typical boundaries of entertainment and cast a glimpse into the souls of the authors. Stories with a deeper message than “Good versus evil” have always been a particular favorite of mine, not simply because the writing is, on average, significantly better but because there is a greater degree of uncertainty as to what the ending might be. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to start referring to everything as “deep” between labored puffs out of a pipe, although that’s something that I hope to do a bit more when I’m older. It means, more or less, that I’m going to do my best, in my own amateur philosophy way, to try to interpret what I saw in the film. Anyone else who saw it, any passerby readers are encouraged to share their thoughts as well.

The Sunset Limited is the brain child of Cormac McCarthy, whose name you might recognize for such other tales as No Country for Old Men or The Road. The script was originally written for stage performance, and similarly to Twelve Angry Men, takes place exclusively within a single room. This means there are no changes of set required, no distractions from what is going on in the play, and no extended breaks from the unrelenting thoughtful dialogue that is dropped onto the fortunate viewer.

The film adaptation was brought on exclusively by HBO. I was fortunate enough to be living in a furnished apartment with HBO at the time, and the advertisement for it caught my eye. The script called for two men, one white (Named “White” in the script) and one black (Guess what his name was?). HBO pulled together two seasoned actors in Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones for the roles. Jones directed. This made for an interesting two-man cast, simply because one actor is known largely for his sense of humor and charisma, the other often for taking things extremely seriously. They fit their roles perfectly.

“Belief ‘aint like unbelief. If you’re a believer and you finally got to come to the well of belief itself , then you ‘aint got to look no further. There ‘aint no further. But the unbeliever’s got a problem. He’s set out to unravel the world. For everything he can point to that ‘aint true, he leaves two false things laying there.” – Black

It says a lot about the quality of the film that the only real complaint is the lack of action. White, a suicidal professor, is saved from jumping in front of an onrushing train by Black, a former criminal turned preacher of the worst parts of the city. Much of their setting is left to the imagination, though it is believed to be a horrible place. The ensuing conversation is one in which Black plays every card in the book to try to get White to see the light, and to simply change his mind about ending his own life. Feeling an obligation to not let White leave until he has changed his mind, it seems as though Black has a serious belief that he owes it to this man he has never met to save his life. He soon finds out, however, that White is not the everyday typical suicide patient. He is, rather, and advanced philosophical thinker, who has come to what he believes is the only reasonable conclusion; the futility of life.

“I long for death, real death! And if in death I thought that in death I would meet those that I knew in life I don’t know what I would do. That would be the ultimate horror, the ultimate nightmare! Kafka, on wheels!” – White

The memorable quotes are too numerous to list. It isn’t the sort of thing to watch if you’re in poor spirits, or can’t enjoy objectively a real philosophical discussion. What it boils down to, is that you shouldn’t watch this film expecting it to change your mind on the purpose of life;because McCarthy doesn’t claim to have the answers. What he does offer instead is a gripping story with interesting characters and the dichotomy of two utterly irreconcilable points of view. Black, and White. Hope, and Despair.

2 thoughts on “Strange Bacon’s Philosophical Marathon, Part 1: The Sunset Limited

  1. I really enjoyed this movie; I thought at times that it was a bit too…overly philosophical, in that the characters felt like they were being fed lines to further a topic rather than fitting their actual character constructions. But I do love McCarthy and I thought this was a solid adaptation of the material.

    Also, you should revisit this movie at some point and pick apart some of the more interesting lines. I’d really like to see it.

  2. Pingback: La auto muerte de Tommy Lee: The sunset limited | El cine que te parió

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