Friday, July 01, 2005

why i lean lean left

It's odd, but I actually feel a bit of grief over the death of the Nate character on Six Feet Under, which really means I'm grieving over the end of the show, which was very, very good. I'm not ashamed to say that I think the show was a work of art, certainly a defining portrait of our time, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to watch it.

For one, it just might be the definitive movie/TV show about life in Los Angeles, at least middle-class life, and for that reason alone it's a significant work. Though LA plays a huge role in the defining of America, both as a producer of so much media and as a massive consumer market, New York tends to be America's fantasy city of choice, a character in its own right. Too often, LA is just a set. But if you've ever visited the place, and I've really only been there once, you get a sense of not only how important it is, but also how unique, indeed, downright strange -- as if its story conveys a theme no other story can, at least not as poignantly. LA is like something out of Sci Fi, or the book of Revelations, which has been edited down to near normalcy. New York might be the tip of the American knife, but LA is its long, decorative, razor-sharp blade.

The ocean played a huge, if sporadic role in the series, and that's partly why the LA setting was key. We were led to believe in an earlier episode, for instance, that the ocean had swallowed up Nate's first wife, Lisa, at a moment when she'd finally found some peace. Later Nate and Brenda were married on the shore, while she carried a dead fetus in her womb. And in Nate's death sequence was where he wound up, running into the waves, yelling over his shoulder, "Come on! This is what we came for!!"

As a fledgling story teller myself, I can't help but think, How perfect! The closeness between life (and by life I mean life at its most alive: elation, ecstasy) and death is a time-honored device of art, one that'll never be worn out because it's so true. And to me that's what LA is: this place on the edge where the fire burns a bit brighter and hotter than anywhere else. It's the spot where those with the most acute cases of wanderlust stopped, because they had to stop, and infected the gene pool with their dangerously curious spirits. The ocean. Life and death rolling, one over the other, again and again, endlessly.

Of course, the Fisher's funeral home, which Nate couldn't succeed in escaping, was a bigger, more obvious thematic backdrop -- and recurring character, what with each episode beginning with a different, unexpected death. These little stories, and the morbid setting, tempered the intensity of life in all the main characters' storylines, grounded them in reality. And isn't this what America is: plain, old mortality wrapped in an illusion of self importance and invincibility?

In this setting, with such real characters, and in the hands of sophisticated writers, actors and directors, Six Feet Under became, in my mind, a true American masterpiece, and I'm really going to miss it.

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