The Tragic Death of Tragedy

Last night I watched Bug, a DVD I’d borrowed from our second daughter’s stock. She’s not seen it yet and asked, “How was it?”

“Pretty fascinating,” I replied. “Though perhaps the pace lagged just a little in a couple of places. I’d give it a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of keeping my interest.”

“My friends said the ending bombed,” my daughter replied.

I recalled her telling me the same thing about her friends’ reaction to the ending of The Mist.

“Your friends are wimps,” I said.

Without giving away anything else about these two films, I’d like to ask what has happened to the American public’s willingness to watch tragedy? The ancient Greeks certainly understood the cathartic value of seeing a plot not merely unfold, but actually unravel before their eyes. Shakespeare did as well. Seriously, would Romeo and Juliet be somehow improved by a happy Hollywood ending?

Some stories simply have to end badly in order to end well. The satisfaction comes from seeing how it all makes sense. I’m reminded of The Butterfly Effect, for example. What an utterly satisfying conclusion to an untenable problem!

To not celebrate such endings is to live with a fixation on a Pollyanna-like view of the world. And that, I’m afraid, is truly tragic.

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