12 June 2009
I've always maintained that just about any event, effort or circumstance can be perceived as an adventure. Some adventures are more entertaining than others, but in any circumstance, calling it an adventure is bound to make everything a bit more entertaining. I immediately second-guess myself in this statement, trying to imagine some of my worst days or least-favorite activities as "adventures," but that is pure cynicism. Besides, I'm unconvinced that it disproves the theory. The fact is, adventures come in all shapes and sizes, and the better adventures have a proper dose of loss and pathos.
I occasionally lament that "adventure movies" fell out of fashion. Then they make another one, and I think, Oh right...mostly they're crap...good call, Hollywood! Back in the days of Erol's, it was my beeline section, and many a pseudo-oil-painting-covered movie found its over-sized box going home with us to play on our VCR. The blending of action/adventure at the movie rental locations was, in my opinion, a fatal move. They are distinct genres. Although adventure invariably contains action, it functions under a rather different formula. Which is to say, the action is more narrative, and generally less dependent on direct conflict. In fact, part of what appeals to me about adventure as a genre is that it has less to do with problem-destroying, and more to do with problem-solving, as fantastical as that solving may sometimes be. I suffer a similar lamentation for the degradation of the genuine spy movie into Die Hard with Sunglasses.
Let me give you an example from life.
In my younger years, I would spend whole summers on acting jobs. Such jobs are commonly referred to as "summer stock," in that a company hires a bunch of actors for the whole summer, and uses them in various capacities for a multi-show, two-to-three month season. The company usually provides housing and pay, assuming one is not an intern. This is quite an adventure for some; some being, in this particular case, a rather naive and directionless recent college graduate. The excitement of having to open a checking account and figuring out little practicalities like telephone capabilities (you know, with a cord and everything) for the sake of a few months' time wears off after a few more years of experience, but at the time it was all adventure. So perhaps it was natural for me, especially given my economic position, so see it all as a grand test in which I was the likable protagonist. I had my angst; do not doubt my penchant for angst, good sir. Yet it was all part of a movie-poster adventure.
One morning (midday perhaps; depends if it was a day off) my friend and I discovered that we were in need of matches. Matches are one of those things for which any need is a fairly absolute one. Can we make do with a stick of chewing gum, or perhaps a single, abandoned shoe? No. These things will not help us. We needed fire, and neither of us smoked. My friend's first impulse was to go into the nearby grocery and buy a pack, which would have probably been one of those plastic-wrapped cubes of a year's supply of wooden matches. Nay, said I. Pay for matches? What absurdity! We, instead, shall have an adventure. And we did. Only nominally dressing in street clothes (apply footware and jacket, e voila!) we set out into the strange wilderness of strip malls, parkways and median greens. The grocery store didn't sell cigarettes. The Pizza Hut didn't carry matches. All passing strangers who did smoke only carried lighters. Where was a 7-11? Where had we stranded ourselves that there was no gas station within walking distance? Suddenly, like a beacon on a distant hilltop: A Fancy Restaurant. But alas! Would such a mecca of not only matches, but Really Very Nice High Quality Matches be open at such an hour, on such a day? Surely not . . .
Success can be spelled in a mere six letters: BRUNCH.
As I recall, they were only too happy to give us a number of their matchbooks, thereby prompting our departure; probably because we looked more than a little like recently released psych-ward patients, in our sneakers and pajama pants. Flush with the glory of accomplishment, we returned to the dorm-like apartment with our bounty of RVNHQMs and proceeded to light the stovetop, or fulfill whatever desire the nascent fire represented at the time. I can't remember exactly. It was too long ago, and too trivial in comparison to the journey it inspired.
It's much more difficult for me to adopt this mindset now-a-days, and especially difficult in times of . . . well, difficulty, though I'm aware that's exactly when I need it most. Indeed, it sometimes seems to me that adulthood is all about averting or, when that fails, mitigating disaster. Experience teaches us to be prepared for disaster in all things, to perceive danger in details, and somehow that leads me to associate caution with wisdom. Yet that's only a small part of real wisdom. Life is not that simple, and staying safe can be a very direct route to losing joy. Just as small joys can get us through a day, little risks can result in a lot of joy. It's that possibility of failure, and the refusal to surrender to it, that makes life more spontaneous and rewarding. I think my favorite aspect of real adventure movies, after all, is how much potential there is for unpredictability. Sure, the "good guys" will triumph (unless perhaps it is the second in a trilogy) but what risks will they undergo next to achieve it?
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indiana Jones just about gets to his MacGuffin (or so we imagine) he is confronted with his worst fear, and gets his soundbite: "Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" Why, Henry Jones (Jr.)? Because you're on an adventure.