Within the past month I have seen two different films with a scene of the main characters standing up somewhere in the middle of the boondocks, and screaming. Screaming loud, at the top of their lungs. Primal scream. Screaming into the Abyss.
It has been a long time since I myself have screamed out loud. The last time was a few winters ago, in Southwestern Wisconsin in the dead of winter. It had snowed so much that we could barely see the neighbor’s houses across the yard, so much that the snow piles were ‘as tall as Micheal Jordan,’ as my best friend joked. One night we simply couldn’t stand it anymore, and bundled up, drove in her car out to a reservoir called Sidie Hollow, got out of the car and walked close to the frozen water. It was so dark and utterly still, the whole world frozen around us. When we got close enough, we held hands, opened our mouths wide, and screamed. Primal screams. In our screams, we begged for mercy from the gods of winter. We begged for release from freezing cold, from all the frustrations of our lives right then, for Grace to shower warmth and light upon us again. We screamed for our children, for our partner, for ourselves. We faced the frozen abyss that night in the heart of darkest winter and dared it to show us its heartless, stone face.
In the film I watched last night, the main character is facing his life, his past and his family. It is a wonderfully absurd film called Garden State. He is a 26 year old man called Large, short for Largeman, who returns to his hometown after his mother dies. He had been away for nine years. He reconnects with old friends from high school, most of whom are not really much changed from how they were as teenagers, still smoking weed and doing drugs, working at dead-end jobs, without much hope or prospects for the future. Large had moved out to L.A., where he got acting jobs in between working as a waiter in a chic restaurant. As the film unfolds, we find out his story. He had a tragedy in his childhood with his mother, which affected him to the point where his psychiatrist father put him on anti-depressants from age ten on. So here is a young man who essentially wore an emotional strait jacket his whole youth, and was unable to feel. As fate would have it, he then meets an unusual and very charming young woman, and they begin to be friends. The movie takes place in some suburban town in New Jersey. All through the film there are scenes with ridiculous, lost characters and a lot of absurdist humor. For example, when the girl named Sam, first brings Large home to meet her mom and adopted African brother, he walks in the door to find her mother holding a dead hamster, stiff as a board. Her mother says matter-of-factly, ‘Sam, you forgot to take the hamster wheel out of Jelly’s cage. He was the only hamster in the world who was too stupid to figure out how to use it.’ She then hands the dead hamster over to Sam. Then we see a view of their living room, with an enormous hamster, well, world of its own, with spiraling plastic hamster tubes running all around the floor. Later on, they go outside to the back yard to bury Jelly. Another absurdity: a large fenced area of dirt, with about ten other small pet graves already there. Sam then explains to Large, ‘it’s not that we are bad pet owners or anything, it’s just that we have had so many of them over the years, and besides, a lot of these graves are fish.’ They proceed to bury Jelly, while Large tells Sam about his own mother dying. She begins to cry, and he asks why, when she didn’t even know his mom? ‘yeah, but it’s just so sad and everything, I mean here I am with a pet, but that was like, your mother.’
Later on in the movie, after a whole lot more absurd scenes, they, along with Large’s old friend, end up at the edge of some kind of geological site somewhere out in the New Jersey countryside. Turns out it is some bizarre underground canyon that was discovered when land developers were excavating. But the best scene in the movie is when the three of them stand up on some old junk at the top of the canyon’s mouth and begin screaming for dear life. I liked the movie in general, but it was especially worth watching to see them screaming into the abyss.
We all have so many bizarre, weird things that happen to us throughout life. It is easy for me to think that I have an exemplary strange and crazy life. What is so gratifying about seeing a film like Garden State is to watch other people’s bizarre and even weirder lives, and to see that, as strange and hard as my own life is, it’s not that terrible. In fact, it could even be a whole lot worse. Somehow this thought comforts me.
If you, dear Reader, have never tried Primal Screaming into your own abyss, I highly recommend it. Face your demons, and scream them down. Then after you are through begging for mercy from the lesser gods, stand tall again in the knowledge that you are doing all you can do. At the end of the day, you know it is really all anyone can ask of you, gods and demons alike.