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Wednesday
Mar122008

He Was a Quiet Man

Upon being asked for his creative method, a famous novelist once said he always began by constellating the criteria of an artistic problem.  An artistic problem is one that does not rely on history for its strength (the death of a real seventeenth–century queen is no more tragic than that of a peasant woman in contemporary Eritrea), nor pretends to be about art while concealing a political or religious agenda (a parable for Calvinism, feminism, or cultural differences are all simply parables, but not art).  That said, from great art you can derive every philosophical, political, ethical, and religious treatise imaginable because they are all contained, to one degree or another, in such works of creative genius.  Do you not sense all our evolution when you gaze upon Bosch’s netherworlds?  Does listening to Bach not give you a clear portal to eternal peace?  Surely, some may say, these are lofty ideals.  Yet without ideals we are but mud ticks hopping from dirt patch to dirt patch until all quickness is drained from our bodies.  So we come up with artistic problems and we masticate on their possible resolution.  After a time and some good thought, we begin to sense an outline, a thin skeleton below the water.  Pebbles become stones and rise together like a bridge across the low tide of Saint Michel, and we have seen the alpha and omega of the issue and scamper back to check our calculations.    

HeWasAQuietMan_01-706973.jpgSuch a design, common to the great artists in all fields for centuries, has either fallen into desuetude or warped itself into hyperspace.  Now films and books either have no plot at all, or are so overplotted for the demands of the reader who wants every last loose end tied into a bonnie bow, that we yearn for basic character studies unvitiated by an unpronounceable disease.  Many of us do suffer from disorders, and they deserve our compassion; but our compassion should be no narrower for the unfortunate nerds and introverts of the world who have no recourse to any joy in their lives.  There are a number of reasons for this, the least of which is the actual environment of the outcast in question.  Of greatest weight is the personality of the individual, of his ability to overcome the storms that life inflicts upon us every so often, and to rise above the morass and breathe in the air.  Most of us will not succeed.  In fact, some will fail so spectacularly in their attempt to join the rest of humanity that the oddest and most horrifying ideas start welcoming them when they get home (nothing else is there to do the trick).  They palliate their stress by going, in their minds, on distant journeys alone or with some coveted partner well out of their league.  Little by little, they move on to bolder acts of righteousness; perhaps they even contemplate a poisoning or two.  Who would miss their bedevilers anyway?  We could always do with fewer bullies and thugs.  More dreamlike strolls through the parks of vengeance lead to even more devastating ideas, ideas that would fix everything with a modicum of planning and subterfuge.  And soon, very soon, the tide is low and we have our bridge in glorious concatenation.

Such is the plan of Bob McConnell (Christian Slater), this film's miserable victim of circumstance who spends his free time getting lectured by his fish and devising the destruction of his hated workplace.  In this day and age in particular, we scoff less at the possibility of these cubiclicides since we know well what despair lies in the hearts of men.  Bob is a true threat, that is clear; and it just may be a matter of time before the fuse is lit and he perches with a remote control detonator on a nearby hill to ensure that no Schadenfreude eludes him.  What Bob does not immediately suppose is that in a building of that enormousness there are bound to be other Bobs, some maybe far more miserable than he, with similar ambitions.  And so, one fine day, Bob sneaks a loaded pistol into the office with every intention of using it or at least brandishing it wildly to gain a few seconds of respect.  Picking up one of his beloved paper clips (or so he claims) prevents him from falling victim to another shooter, an officemate that’s basically an older, bitterer version of himself who guns down a roomful of colleagues before Bob, yes Bob, slays him and becomes the hero.  The obvious question in this scenario is why no one really finds Bob’s very convenient means of retaliation suspicious.  Some characters do consider it; but Bob is so timid and pathetic and easy to pinball around that anything except self–defense is unimaginable.  The thing is, of course, that Bob’s foiled plan for retribution is essentially self–defense against a lifetime of verbal and physical battery.  
    
Bob is deified and promoted to the rank of VP of Creative Thinking by his worthless and loveless boss (William H. Macy), a former military officer whose desk proudly juxtaposes a faux Rubik's cube and a gilded grenade.  VP of CT is in all respects a high altitude post: Bob now drives a luxury car and after years of requests finally has a windowed office.  The office most recently belonged to one of the victims, the lovely young vice president Vanessa Parks (Elisha Cuthbert), herself a V.P.  The bullet that hit Vanessa left her paralyzed, which makes her curse Bob for not having finished her off before the paramedics arrived.  Soon after that, however, the two bond and a love affair hovers, but we know that this is not that kind of film.  The humor is dark, the company’s name is ADD and no one ever seems to do anything at all, and there are abject displays of cruelty lifted from everyday interaction that make your blood curdle.  Expect more than one twist, and make of the ending what you will; but don't forget to watch Slater in the role of his career.  Throughout the film he maintains the complexion and demeanor of a drunk gopher, no mean feat.  As we know he is a kind man who cannot treat others the way he has always been treated, we are sympathetic to the plight and want him to win something from this ordeal.  But all people, even the kindest and especially the quietest, have their breaking points.  

Reader Comments (2)

I was looking over things after the tragic incident yesterday and found this article myself. Very well written and very insightful.

July 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Cappello

Thanks for your comments, Frank!

July 21, 2012 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

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