"What's a little flick of the steering wheel?"
Hurlyburly and the 2016 election
There is a scene in the David Rabe play Hurlyburly where one of the characters, (Phil) has just driven his car off Mulholland Drive and died. It was probably a suicide. The other characters—all coked out whackos—have come from his funeral and the most coked out whacko, Eddie, the protagonist, finds a letter from Phil sent the day he died. He thinks it will explain the mystery of the death. What he finds is a confusing note. “The guy who dies in an accident understands the nature of destiny.”
Eddie begins to go down a rabbit hole and crack the code. He looks up each word to see if there is some secret meaning. He counts the number of letters. His roommate Mickey is less affected by the death of their friend and tries to get him to calm down.
Mickey: This is a dead end is all I’m saying. The guy made a decision beyond communication.
Eddie: He left a note!
Mickey: The note is tangential. It is part of the goof that he was a rational human when he wasn’t…
Eddie: We owe it to him to understand as best we can…how did he get there? How did he get to a place where in his own mind he could do it on purpose?
Mickey: It's not that big a deal. That's the fucking truth. You make an adjustment,
Eddie. You shift your point of view a little...and what was horrible looks OK. All the necessary information that might deter you gets locked away. Little gremlins. They divert the good thoughts so you don't hear them. You just hear the bad thoughts, which at this point are convincing you they're a good idea. You get an idea, that's all. You don't understand the scope of it. You lose the scene. All right, so there you are. Your foot's on the gas, you're flying. So far, so good. Road, trees, radio. What's a little flick of the steering wheel? An inch's rotation? What is that? An inch. So you do it. But with that, what? You've gone beyond what you can come back from. You have handed over control now. It's gravity in this big machine...which is a car, only it's not even a car anymore. It's this hunk of metal rearranging itself according to the laws of physics. Force and resistance, stress and reaction, heat, friction, collapse.
And then you're gone.
Who knows where?
There are multiple levels of irony going on here.
You can read those excerpts I quoted and really think that Mickey is the bastard in this interaction. You can see it as Eddie grieving and trying to take an honest look at his friend’s suicide. But that actually isn’t what’s happening. The fight continues until Eddie decides that Phil’s wife is to blame and tries to call the grieving widow the night of her dead husband’s funeral to shout at her for not being enough of a supportively subservient wife. He’s ultimately arriving at this predetermined misogyny that conveniently lets himself off the hook.
The other irony is that this scene comes in the third act. We have at this point spent two hours with these characters and it is incredibly obvious why Phil would kill; himself. Or why any of them might! They are chronically depressed self-loathing drug addicts who sob themselves to sleep every night when they can’t avoid their own profound soundness by taking their misanthropy out on each other or the various women in their lives.
Given those circumstances, Mickey’s “what’s a little flick of the steering wheel” theory is 100% spot on.
What Does This Have To Do With Anything?
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