CC Issue 10 / Film / TV / Literature

Ink And Rage

As an English teenager with arty tendencies, Withnail and I was compulsory (and frequent) viewing. So on discovering that the latest Bruce Robinson cinematic effort was gracing Hong Kong’s screens, it was a no-brainer. Last week, I dragged along a dear and unsuspecting friend to our local multiplex.

My expectations were low. Though I will always love Withnail, I feel acutely aware that its success is accidental. I once heard it said that no one ever writes a cult film, they can only ‘have written’ a cult film. Withnail works because it became a cult film. Because it did something right, at the right time, with the right people.

If I weren’t a follower of Jesus, I’d say something trite here about ‘stars being aligned’, or fate or something. But since I think both of these things are bollocks, I’ll stick with it being an accident.

The Rum Diary is based on a Hunter S. Thompson book. And thus, it is a swirling, drug-fueled, maniacal affair, with (very) fleeting moments of genius and a handful of wonderful lines. But, as with all of Thompson’s work, it is unsatisfying. But that’s not because it’s a bad film, that’s because the very lifestyle it upholds is flawed. It doesn’t work.

My university years were spent exalting hedonism and new experience as the reason for living. I aspired to a bohemian, epicurean existence, looking for answers in the bottoms of vodka bottles, the local arthouse cinema and the pages of poetry books. I didn’t find any answers, and I always had a cold.

And I avidly consumed Hunter S. Thompson’s writing. I loved all of it. The madness, the imagery, the peripetetic lifestyle, the writing, Rolling Stone Magazine, the booze, the drugs, even the fear and loathing. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I hoped that Thompson’s lifestyle was the answer; the way that we should all be living if we had the balls.

University finished and I returned to London. A year later, standing in the kitchen of my flat, I received a message from a friend informing me that Hunter S. Thompson was dead. He’d shot himself in the head, at home, with his own gun.

I still remember reading the text message, in the same way that we all remember where we were on 911, or when we found out that Princess Diana had died, or when we found out that Micheal Jackson was actually black.

And as I read the message, I felt like I’d been punched in the face. Because my question had been answered, and it wasn’t the answer I was hoping for. Hunter S. Thompson’s lifestyle didn’t work. What he stood for didn’t work. It wasn’t the answer. In fact, it was so far from it, that by his middle age, despite his wealth, success and cult status, he didn’t have any hope. So he killed himself.

Because it’s not the full story. Right? Because the booze and pills and women and trips and hotel rooms and road trips across America and beautifully dishevelled artiness of it all, isn’t the full story.

The books and the films don’t show the comedowns. And when they do, even the comedowns are glorified. They don’t show the fear and the agony and the anxiety. They don’t show the next day. The wretched loneliness. Throwing up. Missing deadlines. The moments of feeling utterly disorientated and completely alone. They don’t show all of the people you screw over along the way. All of the people you tread on in the quest for your hedonistic abandon. They don’t show all the people you hurt.

On that night in East London, everything I thought might be the point of it all came crumbling down around my ears. Again.

Hunter S. Thompson and Bruce Robinson both made a point of pushing the boundaries, both in their lives and in their art. And more and more I question, what is the point?

Because the boundaries will always shift. Bohemia will always have to shift its own boundaries, otherwise it’s not doing what it set out to do: it’s not pushing the boundaries if the boundaries have already moved.

I don’t believe we need this kind of art in order to challenge the way we think about things. I don’t believe it does any good. At all. And in the end, I think it only leads to death.

When we push the boundaries, we get in a mess.

This isn’t to say we should live by a set of rules. We know from the history of humanity that this doesn’t work either.

So all that’s left is heart. And love.

The only really truthful line in The Rum Diaries was this:

‘Human beings are the only creatures on earth who claim that there’s a God. And they’re the only creatures who act like there isn’t.”

He was right, wasn’t he?

4 thoughts on “Ink And Rage

  1. 1. So God doesn’t “align stars” but he allows “accidents”? Seems like two sides of the same coin (not to mention a theological Pandora’s box of pre-destination vs. free will).

    2. HST never espoused a “lifestyle.” Hollywood, Rolling Stone, publishing house’s PR firms espouse lifestyles. Just because someone is unable to imitate HST’s writing in real life does not discredit what he wrote. The worse disciples are those who follow exactly what their leader did.

    3. HST spoke about ending his life more then two decades before he did so. He had his funeral completely planned out in his 30’s. It was no surprise. How many people discredit Hemingway’s work because he killed himself? Or Gary Speed? Is he a shite footballer because he hung himself?

    4. What did HST stand for? It certainly wasn’t drugs, or booze, or women, or guns or gambling, or crashing fast cars. These were outward manifestations of his intense desire for freedom. Freedom from government, social restrictions (at a time when public transit still had a ‘colored’ section), and from the idiocy of the status quo. Attacking his moral decisions does not discredit his work (the documentation of a political and cultural milieu).

    5. There are many comedowns in HST work. Even in the Hollywood films HST has to face the horrible aftermath of what he had done the night before. In his famous account of the Kentucky Derby, not only do he and Ralph Steadman puke their guts out but the story ends as they look into the mirror and realize they are exactly the people they can to document and, essentially, poke fun at. Nietzsche felt he was in the best position to criticize the decadence of his time period because he admitted himself to be a decadent.

    6. What is the point of pushing the boundaries? Christianity pushed the fucking boundaries a couple thousand of years ago and look at its success. That’s the dialectic nature of culture and civilization. The boundaries will always shift, but that’s because people will shift them. Without shifting boundaries you have stagnation and stagnation leads to death.

    • Wow – good comments.

      It seems you know a lot more stuff than me.

      I’m sure there are many errors in what I’ve written. This blog was really just a collection of some thoughts that are the result of my own limited experience.

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