It’s like Ra-yay-ain on a rainy day

'For no reason', by the way, is not like real life; it's just like the excuses we make.
Reported on 25th of August, 2015

Though I hereby reserve the right to continue to rail about the subject of nihilism, not define it, and rail on some more, my latest insight comes courtesy of the final episode of the second season of True Detective.  


As the male characters are killed, and the female characters have babies (yipes), it is important to note the way in which they die.  Not the babies, though as nihilism runs out of stuff about which to be extreme to the max, baby killing is coming.  Don’t worry, other babies do it and it’s adorable.

For the case at hand, Mr. Vaughan perishes at the hands of characters we haven’t met and for no reason, as Mr. Farrell does because they thought it would be cool to shoot in the redwood forest, his last message to his son unsent.  So cruel, like life is cruel.

I’m not debating that nihilism (tentatively, and subject to redefinition, defined as the belief that all life is shit is somehow insightful) is effective.  This is not unlike the way in which the Three Act Structure creates tension, however forcedly: Establish characters.  Have them do things not only against their established character, but that no human being would do to create drama.  Engage impossible contortions to save them.  Nihilism causes us to feel something.  I feel cheated, but that is something.  But I don’t deny its feeling effectiveness for others.  When depressing things happen, earned or not, it’s depressing.  ‘For no reason’, by the way, is not lot like real life; it’s just like the excuses we make.

Having no reason doesn’t hold up in stories either.  Sensical characters in defined circumstances with believable goals isn’t necessary, it simply adds a dimension.  Letting the characters decide improves the experience by virtue of creating dread or hope.  Nihilism produces, I admit, a similar feeling to the true construction of irony, but it’s pure amateur hour.

To explain what I mean, let us consider whom Mr. Nic Pizzolatto must have considered in the construction of an LA noir: Mr. James Ellroy.  Mr. Ellroy, unfortunately for Mr. Pizzolatto, is a master of plotting so terrifying that index card makers tremble as he readies another book.  In this case, we use an instance from the film L.A. Confidential.  This is because the film is easier to remember, and, having read the book several times, I can say that it’s so dense, I’m not even sure I read it.  What I remember: there’s a lot of good shit in there.

From the film: Mr. Kevin Spacey relates to Mr. James Cromwell in his kitchen tales of murder connections, and is shot for his troubles.

Spoiler alert, if you haven’t seen L.A. Confidential by 2015, you’re an asshole.

A potentially nihilistic moment, as by doing good, and being trusting, Mr. Spacey is cut down.  Instead, his dying words, ‘Rollo Tomasi’ not only lead to Mr. Cromwell’s downfall as a clue only Mr. Pierce’s character could have given, but double metonymically as Mr. Cromwell actually embodies Rollo Tomasi: the mythical uncaptured criminal.  If you’ve seen it, you get most of this.  If you haven’t, I’m glad I spoiled for you.

Irony contextualizes, even in extremely negative outcomes.   Nihilism does not. When I speak of irony, it’s more in the sense of a joke that doesn’t make you laugh, as a good definition of that word as you’re going to get; a gag, as defined previously here.  A character’s choice or beliefs, a situation, a mistake, or a choice from another character led inexorably to this point.  As the audience we can reflect on the details and interconnectedness.  When the author simply decides, as in the case of Mr. Pizzolatto:

Gangsters show up.  They kill him.

it is the lazy man’s irony, for the very reason that Mr. Ellroy’s (and likewise, Mr. Leonard’s and Mr. Hitchcock’s and Mr. Wilder’s and so on) work makes it look it easy to get the characters to their end.  But it ain’t.  If the characters don’t get there on their own choices and desires and situations, you have to go back and start again.  And then again.  It’s fucking hard.  Doing whatever you want, creating whatever you want, is lazy, and it comes off that way.  When the Deus has spoken, it produces the same effect (bummer!), without the deeper resonance, and with the addition of that cheated feeling.

Many a joke has been made over the dawning realization that Ms. Alanis Morissette’s eponymous anthem contained no actual instances of irony (this fact being technically ironic not-withstanding).  What this song does contains is a seeming primer of how to write cheap teensies art-house nihilism.  ‘An old man turned ninety-eight.  He won the lottery and died the next day’ would make the Mr. Paul Thomas Anderson of late salivate, just as ‘a death row pardon two minutes too late’ is actually cribbed from the parody within The Player, itself actually made into a film by Mr. Clint Eastwood five years later.

To make sure that we all understand each other, these are not examples of irony.  Okay?  Don’t make those sentences into films.  The fact that Mr. Eastwood’s film is entitled True Crime is ironic, within the extremely limited scope of this article.  You are welcome to document the baffling process that brought that mess to the screen.  As well as my equally baffling choice to see it.

We can make now a third, director’s cut of Ms. Morissette’s ditty, culled from the art-house fare of late: ‘It’s like being rich and famous, but not getting respect as an artist | or child tormented by a monster because his father died | It’s like an oil man who likes oil or something, I don’t know.’  It didn’t say it would rhyme, but trying singing it.  Catchy!

Summing up, the lesson is this: if you’re going to make 1990s snippets of songs into full-length films, start with the ‘Hey yiah yiah | Yiah yea yea | Hey yeah’ part, and work your way up.

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