August 1, 2008

"Death by train is a particularly declaratory form of killing oneself. It makes the act a form of theater..."

Very common in Britain, for some reason:
In the past months in Britain, there has been a sort of low-humming cultural unease about suicides on the Tube, which are readily announced over station intercoms as the reason for delays, presumably to allay fears of terrorism. A movie in general release, Three and Out, attempted to turn this unease into dark comedy by portraying a hapless Tube driver who tries to exploit a (fictional) loophole in his contract that grants him early retirement if he witnesses three suicides from his train. The film misjudged the nation's mood and was savaged by film critics, mental-health workers and the train drivers' union....
(Via A&L Daily.)

Comedy movies about suicide.... Do they ever work? I can only think of one that I've seen, "La Grande Bouffe." A short clip:



Hilarious? That movie was critically praised back in 1973, but there was no jumping under trains. Everyone was eating himself to death. I forget why.

There's also "Harold and Maude," which I've never seen. It's supposedly life-affirming. I never had any interest in it. Also from the early 70s. Was suicide funnier then?

Oh, "suicide is painless... it brings on many changes..."



Have to include "M*A*S*H*" — the Robert Altman movie with the great theme song, the lyrics of which were deleted for the TV show. That came out in 1970.

What was it about the 70s? The war? Or is suicide still considered a source of humor — think this'll be funny? — and I'm just not going to the movies too much anymore?

NOTE: Don't kill yourself!

26 comments:

Randy said...

One could ask this Tube driver just how funny it is.

Trooper York said...

Well I don't want to tell any secrets but Simon has seen Harold and Maude about fifty times.

Just sayn'

Revenant said...

If you want the aftermath of your suicide to consist of large numbers of people thinking you were a complete asshole and harboring dark wishes that your death was painful, throwing yourself under a train is an excellent way to go.

I used to take the commuter train here in San Diego. Every so often some jackass would throw himself under the wheels and we'd all get stuck hanging around the commuter terminal for an hour or two while the police resolved the situation. Plus, pity the guy running the train -- I was informed on one occasion that it was the guy's fifth "kill".

Salamandyr said...

If you're looking for humor in suicide/murder, you couldn't go wrong with "Heathers".

Christy said...

It's because they lack guns in England.

Ann Althouse said...

Oh, yeah, we used to watch "Heathers" all the time. Thanks!

Trooper York said...

What about "It's a Wonderful Life."

Having that on ten times a day on Christmas makes me want to kill myself.

Wurly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bissage said...

I couldn’t find it on YouTube . . .

And please bear in mind I don’t care much for the movie . . .

BUT!!!

IMHO, the funniest take on suicide in a movie is in “Trading Places” where a broken and depressed Dan Akroyd is dressed as Santa Claus and he gets off the bus after crashing a Christmas party and shoving a smoked salmon into his coat and eating it with his bare hands and it’s nighttime and he’s standing by the curb in the rain and he puts a handgun to his head and he closes his eyes and he squeezes the trigger but it only goes “click.”

He’s disgusted with himself that he’s such a failure in life that he can’t even kill himself and he tosses the gun aside and it goes BAM!!!

Teh FUNNAY!!!

(Just trust me on this one.)

John Burgess said...

The cause behind the suicide attempt in La Grande Bouffe was ennui... they'd all just done it all and had nothing exciting to live for.

So, for a weekend, they ensconce themselves in a country villa, bring in a bunch of prostitutes, and proceed to stuff themselves to death.

The film also has nudity and smoking, so beware!

Larry said...

If you think suicide is funny, talk to you favorite train driver/engineer. Or your local paramedic.

Methadras said...

Revenant said...

If you want the aftermath of your suicide to consist of large numbers of people thinking you were a complete asshole and harboring dark wishes that your death was painful, throwing yourself under a train is an excellent way to go.

I used to take the commuter train here in San Diego. Every so often some jackass would throw himself under the wheels and we'd all get stuck hanging around the commuter terminal for an hour or two while the police resolved the situation. Plus, pity the guy running the train -- I was informed on one occasion that it was the guy's fifth "kill".


Oh yea, San Diego is fairly notorious for suicide by train. Especially in Encinitas. It's always those idiot homeless junkies that get in the way of my forward progress.

TheCrankyProfessor said...

Harold and Maude is age-group based. I haven't seen it since I was 22, and I really don't miss it.

But yes, it was funny.

blake said...

I love Harold and Maude. Harold's "suicidal" tendencies are merely theatrics. He was emo before emo was emo, and goth before goth was goth.

There aren't a lot of movies about suicide. M*A*S*H, yes, a big thread of it, It's A Wonderful Life, sure.

It's a plot point in a few movies, like Network.

There are others where it's a big part of the characterization, like Lethal Weapon or The Fisher King.

Interesting question, though. There was a lot of ennui in the '70s....

Shiloh said...

How can you overlook Better Off Dead?!? A classic with the young Cusack!

Ann Althouse said...

"It's a Wonderful Life" is about suicide, but it's not a comedy.

Kev said...

When I was in college, one of the political science professors at our school drove out to a remote location during the weekend before summer-term exams. In the middle of the night, he proceeded to get out of his car and lie down upon the railroad tracks and wait for a train to come by, which eventually happened (with the expected results).

One of my friends was in his class, and he said it was surreal to come in on Monday morning and find out that the professor wasn't going to be there because he had killed himself. Even worse was the fact that his grade book and a copy of the final exam he intended to give could not be found!

Fortunately, almost all the students had kept the previous tests that had been passed back to them (if I recall correctly, one student was short a single test); otherwise, the final exam (which was, of course, prepared by another professor) would have been their only grade for the class...

Kev said...

And for a completely different rendition of someone meeting her demise on the Tube, there's always this weird piece of fiction from the liner of the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis album, Genesis Live.

(Bonus feature: At the linked site, the story is posted in both English and the "secret language" of Spanish. Heh.)

blake said...

"It's a Wonderful Life" is about suicide, but it's not a comedy.

There aren't a lot of comedies about suicide. It flies in the very face of the traditional definition of "comedy".

That said, "Better Off Dead" works. I guess, I don't really remember Cusack trying to kill himself, but then I also roll that film together with "One Crazy Summer".

"The Simpsons" has evolved a rather weak gag of Moe The Bartender regularly trying to kill himself. (Dorothy Parker's Résumé comes to mind.) That rings some bells: Guy trying to kill himself can't seem to succeed--like something Lubitsch or Sturges would do.

The recent French Film "Apres Vous" has a waiter saving a hard-luck case from committing suicide, and being subsequently plagued by him. (What is it with the French?)

Suicide is largely funnier when it fails. There are many cartoons that end with suicide, amusingly enough.

"Office Space" features an aborted suicide followed by horrible accident. "Bronco Billy" has an aborted suicide.

Changing your mind is more common.

"Network" is the ultimate, with changing your mind being followed up by being murdered.

Martin said...

In the first part of The Tipping Point there is a long analysis of the tipping point of teen suicides in Micronesia. The first suicide was a signal to the others.

Seems like the same sort of thing here...

(see http://www.gladwell.com/tippingpoint/) for a teaser on it

Brian Cubbison said...

"The End," starring Burt Reynolds.

blake said...

Good call, Brian. Another '70s flick. Was not successful for a Burt Reynold's flick.

Hey, Beetlejuice is populated by suicides.

Zach said...

Groundhog Day had a dozen or so suicides in rapid succession. (By the same character even, which not many movies can claim.)

vbspurs said...

NOTE: Don't kill yourself!

WTF.

This sounds like the Shark Week disclaimer on Discovery Channel this week.

"Don't try this at home!"

As if we had backyards full of pools with sharks.

Andrew Shimmin said...

Wristcutters: A Love Story was a good (not great) comedy about suicide. Some stylistic irritations, but it made me laugh.

John Lynch said...

We have a tourist steam engine in my town. It does scenic rides of about 50 miles each way through the mountains.

One day, a jerk decided to throw himself in front of the train. People like to take their families, so all these little kids had to be taken off and loaded onto buses right in front of the dead guy.

If you kill yourself, do it in private.