Watching yourself become the villain of your own story

My least favorite superhero movie trope is the supportive but mortal spouse who continues to implore her workaholic, messianic husband to just stop all the madness.

Stop your blind drive to invent, create, build, kill all the bad guys, save the world, leave a legacy for the next generation, and for once in your goddamn life, just rest. Rest, you idiot. Respect your limitations. Surrender this childish god complex. Accept your human capacity for death so we can go have dinner together like normal people.

Of course, that message never gets through. The main character has long since convinced himself that he’s special and the world needs him, and that caring about one life as much as he cares about the millions is his true calling.

Cue the dramatic score.

Clearly, this narrative sells a lot of tickets at the box office, which is exactly why these movies will continue to be made, and I will probably continue to pay money to see them.

But can we please stop pretending for a moment that this story is relatable?

Halstead, a lovely humanistic pagan, writes that the fallacy of superhero films is that they’ve muddled our expectations of dying. In these movies, nobody ever dies because life is unfair or they made a stupid mistake. Death is always massively heroic, noble, worthy, painless, slow motion, climactic and beautiful. Many of these movies send the techno optimistic message that death is terrible and the only way to get over it is to use a glowing stone to rewind time so that nothing bad ever happened.

This message cannot be helping us. In a world where reality doesn’t care what we think, it just keeps rolling along, it’s time we finally got good at accepting our mortality.

Becker’s illuminating book on the denial of death argued for this point decades ago. He coined the term cosmic specialness, which stems from our hope and belief that the things man creates in society are of lasting worth and meaning, that they outlive or outshine death and decay, that man and his products count.

And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to create the most fulfilling life possible. But let’s not live in obscurity about our own condition, lest we watch ourselves become the villains of our own story.

Let’s not pretend that the world is waiting for us to save it, lest we walk with clay feet by setting ourselves up as gods.

Movies are one of the great joys of my life, but there they’re not an objective form of evidence, no matter how many bad guys die.

What if our real enemy wasn’t death, but attempts to avoid it?


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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