Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Six Feet Under final sequence: profound or farcical?

Warning: Six Feet Under Spoilers

OK, Sullivan and his reader seem to have a very different reaction to the last scene of the last episode of Six Feet Under than I did. In the final part of the last episode, there's a very extended sequence where they show the death of every single character who hasn't died already. Here's the reader reaction:
I watched the finale of the show, which ended on that clip, and was floored - moved to despairing tears. These few minutes capture the inevitability of death, both the point and pointlessness of life, and the crushing surprise and lingering despair caused by death for survivors. If they handed out Oscars and Emmys for scenes, this deserved both.
And Sullivan adds: "It's TV at its best".

I beg to differ. I found that final sequence to be bordering on slapstick. So did my wife. It's the most maudlin, schmaltzy, steaming pile of emotional crap I've seen on television in a long time. In fact, I think it deserves the Emmy in the category of sentimental lameness. It reminded me of a production of Hamlet I once saw where the audience just started laughing in the final scene because the bodies were piling up so quickly. Since many of the Six Feet Under characters are rather young and played by equally young actors, the death montage treats us to a parade of bad age makeup the likes of which I have never encountered. (This is an area where Hollywood really needs to improve, craft-wise.) If one death is a tragedy, and a million deaths is a statistic, I guess a dozen deaths is a farce, if shown in rapid sequence with silly background music playing the whole time.

The one thing I was curious about in this whole sequence is what the future would be like. The deaths go into the year 2085, which (assuming we've avoided the various possible planet-wide catastrophes available to us) should have some really cool technology and stuff. But they never show any of that. OK, there's some funny looking tableware and a glowing picture, but that's all stuff we could have now. And Keith's uniform in 2029 has that vaguely futuristic look that some low-budget science fiction movie would give to a villainous flunky. But this is the future, man. What about the flying cars, cyber implants, household robots, and nanotechnology devices? I mean in 2085 at least some things should look much different, don't you think?

As an aside, this closing sequence is an implicit refutation of Ray Kurzweil's notion that we will soon be able to live forever. Claire dies in 2085 at the age of 102, in what seems to be a peaceful way. And many of the life durations are very standard for today. I guess the Six Feet Under folks don't share Kursweil's optimism about advances in medical technology.

I liked the series overall very much, so this is not a general criticism of Six Feet Under as a whole, just this closing sequence. And I have lost relatives recently, so it's not like I'm completely unable to relate to the loss . And I'm not some insensitive galoot. In fact, I tend to cry at moving things in movies more than most people.

Here's the clip in question, courtesy of YouTube, er, I mean Google. Judge for yourself, though you should probably watch all 5 seasons of the show first to get the maximum "impact", not that it made it any more profound for me. In fact, the fact that I knew all these characters made these rapid-fire deaths seem rather cheap and shoddy, unworthy of the characters and the wrenchign pain that was often depicted very well in the show. The clip:

14 Comments:

Blogger grishnash said...

I don't think I had nearly the negative reaction to it that you did, although I did find some aspects of it not particularly well done. I don't think the concept in itself was that bad for the ending, but yes, the aging of some of the characters (especially David) was really badly done. The effects guys get a D- on that one. The other thing that annoyed me is that all the deaths (except for Keith) are all pretty much exactly the same: the character suddenly keels over in a public place with everyone watching. That was disappointing because one of the things the show did the best was consistently portraying a wide variety of deaths at the beginning of each episode, from the predictable to the pointless, to the tragic, to the ridiculously comical. By contrast, the Fisher Clan deaths were all pretty run-of-the-mill. Yes, they also didn't make the future futuristic enough. The only thing I saw that didn't look like 2005 was the cruise ship, which was only on-screen for a few seconds anyway.

On the other hand, I didn't entirely dislike it. There are some interesting details in the background in many of the scenes, where you get glimpses of plotlines that existed only in the show's "future history". Though if you didn't like the ending sequence, the online obituaries are a better read.

10:36 AM, October 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you are both missing the point. The realism of the depiction of the future is immaterial. The pathos and human sense of time and mortality were everything. It is not a science fiction movie. How would you like the actors to die? In a nuclear holocaust?

I found the sequence to be a masterful culmination. My wife and I, too, are very sensitive and sometimes cry during well-done cinema, and this made us weep for at least ten minutes! :) It would be a tall order to treat the mortality of the characters in a better way.

9:15 AM, February 13, 2008  
Blogger Zachary Drake said...

anonymous said: "The pathos and human sense of time and mortality were everything."

This was precisely my problem with the final montage: by showing all the deaths one after another, any human sense of time was utterly obliterated. Everything was compressed. There was no time to do justice to the lives and deaths of these characters we'd come to know and love. It just seemed silly and meaningless. Especially compared with the treatment of death in the show itself, which was often very rich and played itself out believably over long stretches of time.

It still shocks me how vastly different people's reactions to this sequence can be.

10:56 PM, February 29, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looked at in isolation, as they did each week of SFU, death is tragedy. The furious pace of the end sequence illustrates how life and death intertwine.

Life = Death

If you don't get that yet, you will.

11:16 AM, July 25, 2008  
Blogger Zachary Drake said...

Um, dude. The wildly diverging opinions this sequence produces continue to astound me. I think I am fairly in touch with the cycle of life and death. Even more so after becoming a father. I saw my grandmother pass away in front of me.That experience shook me to my core.

I don't think my reaction to that sequence is due to some insensitivity on my part. I'm actually a sucker for many forms of sentimentality. When I was a kid, I was often the one kid who cried during the movies they showed in after-school daycare. There are plenty of things I am moved by.

The end sequence of Six Feet Under is just not one of them.

Looking back at my original post, I found I basically said all this stuff already. I think we just need to come to terms with the fact that this sequence hits people in very different ways.

Maybe for me, the bad age makeup, rapidity of the deaths, and lackluster imagination about the future got in the way too much for me to be moved by what was going on. Other people who weren't bothered by these things were perhaps more open to being moved by what was being shown. But really, how can you be shown a glimpse of 2085 and not wonder what it's like? That, to me, seems symptomatic of a profound lack of curiosity. But then I can understand if someone of a different temperament is more moved by an individual death than by speculation at what the future will hold.

Or maybe the reality that we all die isn't such a gut punch to me. I fear my own death viscerally, as any healthy being should. But it isn't problematic for me philosophically. Or maybe I'm just in denial about the possibility of my own death and the death of those closest to me. So the profundity of the sequence was lost on me.

Or maybe it was just a bad sequence, and people who found it profound and moving are the same people who find the poems in Hallmark cards to be deep and profound. But Andrew Sullivan is very intelligent and a good writer. I'm more annoyed by his positive evaluation of this sequence than I am by his conservatism.

I am really at a loss here.

8:05 AM, July 26, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi guys. Sorry for my english, I'm French ;o)

"What about the flying cars, cyber implants, household robots, and nanotechnology devices?"

How many writers tried in the past to imagine Year 2000, and saw flying cars and robots ? Dis you notice any in your near environement recently ?

"we will soon be able to live forever"

Living forever ? Seriously ?

"bad age makeup"

I agree with that, but I thought David was not the worst one.

6:46 PM, August 20, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're complaints are about bad makeup and the fact that we don't get to see the Jetsons and their flying cars in 2085??? Wow...... that's pretty freaking lame.

1:34 PM, April 04, 2009  
Blogger Zachary Drake said...

My primary complaint is not the makeup or the lack of curiosity about the future, though those things bothered me. My primary complaint is that the rapid-fire sequence of deaths seemed to trivialize the death events. This in a show that always took death and its consequences very very seriously and slowly.

I find it fascinating that many people who've commented on this thread are so dismissive about my complaint about the lack of interest in what the future will be like that the show seems to display. I'm sorry, but if you show a scene from 2084, you are ipso facto making a science fiction scene. You are inviting all kinds of speculation. I know intellectually that this is not interesting to some people. But for me, it is deeply compelling. I guess I'm a geek.

Of course, I'm not expecting the show to "get it right". Who can say what "right" even is? But it seems like they weren't even trying all that hard. There might not be flying cars or any particular thing I mentioned, but I bet there would be something.

2:47 AM, April 05, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to THANK YOU for saying every single thought that was running through my mind as I sat there mouth agape unable to believe my eyes. I'm incrediby curious to see what the writers' intentions were with that one. The whole episode was just so goddamn ordinary. After Ruth and Claire did the whole crack the mother ice thing and cry cry and fly fly daughter she drives away and whaddya know, Nate can't catch up... wow... well, the past has never been any more blatantly behind someone. Self-mockery at its finest?

11:54 AM, May 01, 2009  
Anonymous comehomenow said...

I think the two ends of the spectrum on this one are so far apart that it's impossible for the two sides to understand each other.

I nearly had a nervous breakdown during that final sequence. It was completely gut-wrenching. I can't even imagine finding it laughable or lame...even for a second. It took these characters that you've known and grown with for years through the most emotional and complicated of life's challenges, and stabbed you in the heart with the harsh reality that everything dies. Not only did it not leave ANY questions unanswered as to what happens after, but it captured the entire essence of the series in less than 10 minutes.

I understand your desire for a more in-depth look at their deaths and a more realistic look at the future...but, that's not what it was about. It was about life and death, nothing more nothing less. It was about the finality of it. It's over. Show's over. Everyone's gone. Just like that.

Every episode of the show used the contrast of life and death to tell the story. This was simply the big bang, compressing that concept into a final number, if you will. What someone's bedroom might look like in 2085 is so incredibly irrelevant (as is the quality of the aging make-up), I can't wrap my head around why that would even be an issue for you (and no need to repeat, I understand what you're saying, I just can't relate). Besides, bedrooms looked kinda the same 100 years ago as they do now.

Nonetheless, it really is insane how much people can disagree on things.

I thought it was the most beautiful and intense sequence I've ever seen in film or television.

And I don't like Hallmark cards.

1:30 PM, December 07, 2009  
Blogger Zachary Drake said...

I love how this post is still generating replies over three years after it was made. Thanks everyone for your contributions. I wonder if one explanation for the different reactions to this scene has to do with our philosophical reaction to the reality of death. To quote the previous commenter:

"and stabbed you in the heart with the harsh reality that everything dies."

Either I have an enormous amount of Zen detachment, or I'm completely in denial about my own mortality, but the harsh reality that everything dies is not something that stabs me in the heart. It's just sort of there. Of course everything dies. What are we supposed to expect, that these characters we love so much live forever? So maybe I felt that showing their deaths was just too heavy-handed and obvious. But looking back on my previous comments, I find I've basically said this already.

Maybe I've seen too much Shakespeare and Greek tragedy (and read too much George R. R. Martin) to be so shaken by the death of beloved characters. And I keep coming back to the fact that death was treated so much more richly in the show itself.

As for the people whose curiosity about 2083 is drowned out by the mortality, I offer this defense of my reaction: if people are still dying in 2083, I suspect that they will die in a similar manner to the way they've been dying throughout human existence. Indeed that's what the montage showed. So that montage wasn't showing me any new information or revealing anything new to me.

It is amazing how our reactions are so incredibly different. And I want to re-emphasize that I thought the show itself was very good. I think on that we're in agreement. It's just this final montage. I think my wife and I hold the minority opinion here, though one commenter has agreed with us. I really wonder what the underlying differences are that explain this. Maybe because my wife and I are atheists who don't believe in an afterlife? But that should render death more profound and disturbing to us.

Maybe it's this: the reality of death itself is not fundamentally interesting to me. What is interesting is how we cope with it, how it affects us, how it changes how we live. That's what the show did for me, and what the montage didn't do. Maybe "everything ends" is a lesson I've already learned, or maybe it's a lesson I haven't even begun to learn yet.

9:45 PM, December 07, 2009  
Anonymous download er said...

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10:29 AM, August 17, 2010  
Blogger tuc41029 said...

I was crying too hard to notice any over-emotionality. The Sia track used at the end moved me to tears at the first notes, and I was litterally sobbing (not just tears rolling, but noises were coming out of me. You know?) I think that the fact that I was very invested in the series had a lot to do with how great i thought it was- I lost the show as well as all of the characters that i felt i'd "gotten to know" throughout. You may think it was overdone and the makeup was bad, but the amazing writing for the entirety of the show got me invested enough to be able to take what i was seeing at face value, instead of reading into the details. I did enjoy your take on it, though =)

6:12 AM, November 26, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ending is both somewhat sentimental (in the best way) and -- true to the tone of the show, somewhat darkly comic. I thought the swift accumulations of deaths was profoundly heatbreaking. I couldn't stop weeping, and I had dreams about the show for days and days after it ended. I just loved the scope of it.

8:38 AM, November 28, 2010  

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