Being funny is never easy, especially when you’re being funny about unfunny things. As far as dark humor goes, death is actually a rather simple topic to cover. However once you start getting into the meaning of death, or mass genocide, or the afterlife, that’s when things start getting a little tricky.
Sometimes you have to stop worrying about offending the people who won’t get it and start worrying about entertaining the people who will. So here are some movies that, no matter what your feelings on them are, managed to successfully make a mockery out of something quite serious.
I Heart Huckabees – Existentialism & Philosophy
It’s not for everyone, but you can’t deny that this has to be one of the most original modern comedies out there.
It’s basically a war between two opposing philosophies. Is there a connecting order to the universe or are we all in it alone? It’s harmony vs. chaos. The end moral is that, like everything, it’s just not that black and white. It isn’t one extreme or the other but rather the best of both worlds. Life is cruel and random and we’re all in it together.
The weirdest part is that both Clooney and Tomlin have regarded him to be extremely talented after the fact – making him my own personal hero. After all, rule number one of being a director is learning how to mentally and physically abuse your talent while maintaining their respect – just ask Sam Raimi.
Being There – Consciousness
The apparent dominating message of this film seems to be that if you look important and know the right people, it doesn’t matter if you’re an idiot. You can even end up running for president. This is, of course, more true than they probably knew at the time.
Then comes the very last shot of the film, and the ambiguity of it’s meaning. We see Chance walk across water Jesus-style as we hear the closing line, “Life is a state of mind.” Suddenly there’s meaning to the whole damn thing, which is pretty impressive when you consider that it wasn’t originally in the script.
In fact, director Hal Ashby had to fight with the studio to keep the new ending in – going so far as to risk being fired over the whole thing. Luckily he won, and now we are left with a much deeper meaning than what was originally intended. Chance defied the physical laws of the lake simply because he didn’t know that was I thing he couldn’t do. The idea being that Chance was born so without any mental complexities that he is truly a man in the moment, simply enjoying uh… well, being there.
The Invention Of Lying – Faith
What a weird film. Its got Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Jonah Hill, Rob Lowe, Edward Norton, and Louis C.K. all playing roles – it stars the distinguished atheist that is Ricky Gervais, and it’s presented as a romantic comedy set in a world where humans cannot lie. The premise, of course, is that Gervais becomes the first person to gain the ability to fib, which spawns the first religion.
What’s interesting about it is that the central message, the one muddled by the romantic plotline, is that faith is ultimately good. We see this from the happiness the main character is able to inflict in his friends and family by simply giving them something to hold on to. The flip side is that as this faith he creates raises more and more questions it becomes more and more complicated and structured. Suddenly it’s just a new set of rules and nothing more.
What makes this film so fun is that you spend the first half hearing everyone’s deepest fears and insecurities complete laid out. Once lying is invented we see how all those hang ups can be soothed simply by giving them a little bit of hope. The crowning moment is watching a suicidal Jonah Hill accept for the first time that perhaps he doesn’t have to kill himself after all.
Dogma – Religion
“Human beings have neither the aural nor the psychological capacity to withstand the awesome power of God’s true voice. Were you to hear it, your mind would cave in and your heart would explode within your chest. We went through five Adams before we figured that one out.”
At first Kevin Smith doesn’t seem like the optimal choice to write a film about religion, but when you hear him speak you start to realize how moral of a man he is and how well he’s managed to make religion work for him. His image of a Catholic afterlife in this film is probably the best-case scenario for the religion – a heaven that evolved with the time and doesn’t need to take everything so goddamn seriously. It’s a fun vision of a progressive and forgiving deity, so naturally it got protested to hell.
As someone who was raised by Buddhist hippy parents, I never stepped into a church until I was a teenager. To me, this film comes across as the most appealing view of Catholicism I’ve ever seen, something that should probably be embraced rather than rejected. If you couldn’t swear, screw, and have fun in heaven then why even call it that?
While Smith has announced his future retirement from filmmaking, some years back in the View Askew forums he also mentioned an interest in making a Dogma sequel. Personally, I’d very much like to see what he could do with that.
Dr. Strangelove – Nuclear War
These days no one really gives a rat’s ass about nuclear war, but in the 1960s it was a bit of a touchy subject. Imagine going through your day thinking that at any second someone might decide to put the hammer down and vaporize your essence in a ridiculous blast of hellfire. It would be like owning a pet dragon, only… like… real.
Such a futile and real fear demands to be mocked, because what the hell else are you going to do? That’s why this film worked so well – it summed up the dark absurdity of what we were doing. We made bombs so big that we were scared to use them, and yet we still did. And to the average human, none of this was called for. No one asked for them, and no one had any idea who really controlled them. At that point, all you can do is imagine the worst-case scenario and laugh your ass off.
Also – It’s funny to think that there was a time when a comedic actor could play multiple characters in a film and audiences didn’t sigh in disgust.
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