we are out of it
Still those barely conscious years in Lawrence (909 E. Rhode Island. Weird how some things stick in your head.) some evenings I'd while with our next-door neighbor, Kerry, referred to in my house invariably with the epithet short-order fry cook. Mostly in those pre-video days we'd play board games--Dogfight, maybe Risk, Battleship, squares on lined notebook paper.
Sometimes I'd burn out on the novelty of somebody to interact with and just veg in the corner with a book.
I have no idea why Kerry had Alan Dean Foster's novelization of Dan O'Bannon's not-particularly-significant first feature Dark Star, but something about the cover--tattered 'star suit', waves of orange-red flame, frayed debris pressed into service as a surf board--captivated me. So I stole it.
In my leaden, dogged way, I plowed through it again and again, a rereader even then. Most of it I naturally didn't get--phenomenology jokes were over the head of a boy who, that summer, was so scared of the poster for Christine that he had to take the long way home from the Varsity so he didn't have to walk by the used car lot.1 I did get some of the jokes, though--the isolation and loneliness somehow butted up against the claustrophobia and contempt of being around the same people in the same place day after day. And I really liked the idea of killing yourself burning up entering a planet's atmosphere on a surfboard fashioned from your shattered ship's ruined hull. I really liked that death.
The movie holds up okay. Impressive technical achievement for what started as a student film--as we'll see later, nobody did better sets than Dan O'Bannon. Great tone--Kafka in space--funny--absurd--redolent-of-doom. The premise is great: four men on a ship whose mission is to find planets with unstable orbits and destroy them. That's it! The backstory is that they've been out for three subjective years--20 back home--and have minimal contact with Earth. The captain is dead, killed by a short-circuit in his chair. (May all our leaders be electrocuted in the ass.) One survivor is in complete retreat already, isolated from the others, fully checked out. The other three are in various degrees of withdrawal. Everybody is constantly subjected to indignities: eating "ham" as a purplish fluid in a flat plastic tube; a cargo hold self-destructs, destroying the ship's entire complement of toilet paper.
This is not one in which the metaphors are terribly...metaphorical.
Everything's falling apart; nobody likes you; nobody knows who you are--or who they are; nobody cares; you can't escape them; eventually, the device you constructed to blow up and annihilate blows up and annihilates. There are consequences.
It's not heavy-handed, though, just blunted and stunted and paranoid, and style counts. There should always be room for an apocalypse heavy on idiots in avid pursuit of their petty agendas, oblivious to their impeding oblivion. There should always be room for lines like this one: "Don't give me any of that intelligent life stuff--find me something I can blow up!"
Star Trek this ain't. Afghanistan it might be.
I will leave you with a found poem. It's the protagonist's lament, delivered to his video diary.3
I do not like the men
on this spaceship
They are uncouth
& fail to appreciate my better qualities.
I have something to contribute to this mission if they
would only recognize it. Today,
over lunch, I tried
to improve morale & build a sense of camaraderie among the men by holding a humorous round-robin discussion
of the early days of the mission.
were brutally rejected. These men
do not want a happy ship.
They are deeply sick
& try to compensate by making me
Last week was my birthday.
Nobody even said happy birthday to me.
Someday this tape'll be played
& then they'll be sorry.
1 (I was just a little kid--those years, I was often possessed by a full-body terror when walking anywhere after dark. I'd start imagining some silent, stealthy monster2 following me, towering over me. So if you were across the street and you saw me inexplicably start running home? That's why.)
2 Frequently this monster was a spider whose belly would just clear my head as it walked. I knew instinctively that the behemoth spider was exactly the size of all the spiders I'd ever killed, and that it would kill me.
3 Relevant that the protagonist is played by writer/director/editor Dan O'Bannon? Possibly.