Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Unique Movie: Rocket Science

As I started watching Rocket Science, I began to feel irritated—it appeared exactly as though it was going to be one of those formulaic, feel-good, competitive, "the unlikely underdog triumphs over adversary" films that are so popular for sports and dance movies. This style can and often is adapted for intellectual pursuits too, as was the case with Rocket Science, which takes high school debate as its premise.

However, as the movie wore on, and the unlikely hero tries increasingly more and more desperate schemes to overcome his disability (he has a speech impediment which makes debate basically impossible for him) without any progress, I began to wonder: could it be that he won't finally have one of those euphoric epiphanies/breakthroughs that will eventually lead to his success? That maybe, just maybe, justice won't be served, and he won't get the girl in the end? (WARNING: If you haven't seen the movie yet and you're concerned about spoilers, now might be a good time to stop reading.)

I wasn't disappointed. Enlisting the help of a more experienced debater (who dropped out from high school earlier on in the movie), together they sign on as a "homeschooled" team. Our hero does manage some modicum of success through half-singing a debate presentation—but a minute into his speech, he and his partner are interrupted by school officials, who promptly and pitilessly disqualify them from competing (since neither of them really does homeschool). No special pleas accepted, no special exception granted, no brilliant plans or loopholes to get around the system. They're just simply kicked out. The hero has one more dramatic tiff with his love interest (who betrayed him) before leaving.

In the final scene, he's talking with his dad in a car, and he asks, "When does it all [life] start to make sense?" And his dad answers something to the effect of, "It doesn't. After a while, you just stop trying to make sense of it, and live your life."
Protagonist: "So, what, everyone just grows out of it? Is there ever anyone who that never happens to?"
Dad: "Tell you what, if you turn out to be one of those people, you let me know."
The car backs out from where it's parked and starts driving away. Music plays, credits.

No success, no girl. No final resolution, no heroic overcoming, no deus ex machina, no convenient wrapping up of loose ends. This makes it possibly one of the most realistic movies I've ever seen, in some ways. The protagonist tried, he suffered, he failed, he had to move on. Things don't just suddenly "snap into place." It did have a somewhat positive message, I guess—don't keep struggling to speak with someone else's voice, learn to speak with your own voice. And it presumably offers us the consolation that everyone has to deal with these questions at some point in their life (usually around college age, I believe, which is what makes this such a perfect movie for that demographic).

I can't quite help thinking that I may be doomed to be one of those people that never gets over the fact that life doesn't make sense, even if they're not supposed to exist.

1 comment:

  1. "I can't quite help thinking that I may be doomed to be one of those people that never gets over the fact that life doesn't make sense, even if they're not supposed to exist." I don't think that means you're doomed. I think that means you fight against complacency. You fight to have life make sense. Just like the kid in Rocket Science. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail--but you never give up the fight. That's a rich way to live, I think. Good post!