Is Life Nothing But a Series of...You Know What?

The other day, my wife and I were watching an action/adventure film, when she made an interesting comment. She said she wished that, instead of showing yet another car chase, which, to her, all look alike, they would simply insert the words, "Four minute car chase begins here," and then go back to the story.

Besides not subjecting us to yet another repetitive car chase, this device would give the director and writer additional screen time to develop their story (assuming a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie actually has a story worth developing).

The same for explosions and gun fights. If my wife had her way, they would insert the words, "Massive explosion followed by big fire," and "Energetic gun fight, where X and Y get killed," then move on. As peremptory as her comment was, it got me to thinking. It caused me to consider which "stock" footage in movies I would like to see replaced by inserts.

I instantly thought of three: weddings, funerals, and births. The scene where the woman is having a baby, screaming and thrashing about, with the nervous husband standing off to the side, and the doctor and nurses going about their business has been shown so many times, it's become a cliché. Just show us the happy couple with the new baby and move on. Anything beyond that is superfluous.

If they insist on presenting a birth scene, at least do it differently -- do it so it would be worth watching. For instance, instead of her screaming in agony, with the nurse urging her to "Push!" have her lying quietly on her back, smoking a cigarette as the baby emerges. What it lacks in realism would be off-set by its originality.

The same for weddings and funerals. How many times do we have to hear the guy ask, "Do you, Myrtle, take Murray to be your blah, blah, blah....?" We haven't seen that enough? And how many times do we have to see the camera pan to the faces of the respective wedding parties? We've all been to weddings. Why try to dramatize something we're all familiar with?

As for funerals, unless something significant occurs at the burial (as in the Godfather when Tessio exposes himself as the traitor), just assume that we all know the drill. Assume that we all know the tableau will include a man will intoning, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," and there will be people dressed in black, looking grim. Move on, I say.

Oddly, the thought occurred to me that pretty much every movie sequence is a variation on a cliché of some sort. The marriage proposal (Sally, would you marry me?), the break-up, the barroom brawl, the job interview, the graduation scene, the underdog succeeding, the high school prom, the raunchy frat boys, the bad guy getting his comeuppance, etc., etc. They have all become clichés.

But then another thought occurred to me, this one a bit more sobering. Just as there's very little "originality" in the movies, one could argue that there is very little of it in real life. Basically, unless something really inconvenient or bizarre happens (which I hate), one can make the case that life itself is a series of quasi-scripted clichés.

Consider: We genuinely thank people, we genuinely congratulate people, and we genuinely commiserate with people, and we all do that pretty much the same way. Accordingly, we also pretend to be amused, pretend to be concerned, and pretend to be interested. (Wow, your cat is adorable.) And we do all that in pretty much the same way.

Wouldn't it be infinitely more efficient if we could use those movie "inserts" in real life? If we could hold up a sign saying, "Assume the appropriate comment is being inserted here," and go on about our business, with no one being the least bit offended by its insincerity or glibness?

On the other hand, if we eliminated clichés, we wouldn't know what to do with all the spare time we had, because life is nothing if not a vast collection of clichés. Indeed, without clichés, we'd be virtually reduced to inaction. So I guess the lesson is this: Be careful what you wish for (another cliché).