Friday, May 08, 2009

Oblivion: thumbs up or thumbs down?

Roger Ebert recently posted something on his blog regarding his impending demise. In his post, his repairs to the standard secular bromide about how death is no big deal–even a relief–using an argument that’s been kicking around since the days of Lucretius.

What’s striking about this is not the banality or unoriginality of his argument. What’s striking, rather, is that in a movie review from a just few years before, he heaped scorn on precisely that superficial view of mortality and oblivion.

Oblivion: Thumbs Up!

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

But certainly, some readers have informed me, it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don't feel that way. "Faith" is neutral. All depends on what is believed in. I have no desire to live forever. The concept frightens me.

So within that reality, someday I will certainly die. I am 66, have had cancer, will die sooner than most of those reading this. That is in the nature of things.

What I expect will most probably happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that.

I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do.

Oblivion: Thumbs Down!

"Tuck Everlasting" is based on a novel well known to middle school students but not to me, about a romance between two teenagers, one of whom is 104. It contains a lesson: "Do not fear death--but rather the unlived life."

These are the Tucks. Mae and Angus, Mom and Dad, are played by Sissy Spacek and William Hurt. Years ago, they drank from the spring and have become immortal. "The spring stops you right where you are," Winnie is told, and that's why Jesse has been 17 for all these years.

The movie oozes with that kind of self-conscious piety that sometimes comes with the territory when award-winning young people's books are filmed ("Harry Potter" is an exception). The characters seem to lack ordinary human instincts and behave according to their archetypal requirements.

The movie is too impressed with its own solemn insights to work up much entertainment value; is too much fable to be convincing as life…Even its lesson is questionable. Is it better to live fully for a finite time than to be stuck in eternity? The injunction to live life fully need not come with a time limit. That's why the outcome of the romance is so unsatisfactory. I dare not reveal what happens, except to say that it need not happen, that the explanation for it is logically porous, and that many a young girl has sacrificed more for her love. Besides, just because you're 17 forever doesn't mean life loses all delight. You can get rid of that horse and carriage and buy a motorcycle.

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