Guilty Pleasure: Keith Snyder

The reason second chances are so riveting in the movies isn’t that they offer hope. Hope doesn’t work in the audience’s viscera. Redemption doesn’t, either. They’re operations of the spirit; they don’t inhabit the digestive tract.

A second chance is the frightening offer of a specific cessation of suffering: I will give you the end of your longing. But not easily, and not after merely a human effort: The battle to put the world and yourself right after you’ve grown to accept your own failure is ten times harder and more hopeless than the battle you should have fought in the first place.

***

There’s a scene exactly halfway through The Replacements that, for me, is the end of the movie—not the football one, but the one about the world being set right. I don’t really care whether Shane Falco wins a game; football itself is a Maguffin in this football movie. It could be any sport, any endeavor in which the world suddenly needs the failed, when only this morning, and yesterday, and the days before that, it didn’t. A football strike opens the door, in this movie, to failed pros, onetime near-pros, and near-perfect athletes with just one insurmountable flaw. It delivers the opportunity no one ever really gets.

Or anyway, I haven’t. Whoever’s writing my plot doesn’t have that kind of compassion, or maybe just can’t rewind time. We are not accepted. We are not protected. We are not lifted. We just live with the consequences of ourselves, and try to recast them as humility and character.

And then, at 00:58:50:

We got this.

This is the second time Falco’s little pickup truck has been overturned by the egotistical millionaires who call him a scab for playing when they want more money. They’re long past ever understanding the meaning of their own petty action in the stadium parking lot: Falco needs his truck so he can earn a living scraping boats—a consequence of his failure in the 1996 Sugar Bowl. To him, it’s vital to his survival and a reminder of his failure. To them, it’s a good sadistic joke, fun the first time, so why not do it again?

But this time, and without his ever asking anyone for help:

We got this.

And they do.

***

Everything after that is just plot. I’m a sucker for it anyway, but We got this is the end of the movie I care about.

And I don’t think I can call it a guilty pleasure anymore. There’s some one-note joke stuff in the place of character that I find a little cheap, and the impromptu song-and-dance number in jail makes me cringe internally, but that’s not enough to justify guilt status. So: Status revoked.

And it’s a comedy, anyway.

***

Sometimes a human being has to step up alone and face an onslaught. But after acceptance of failure—after resignation has soaked all the way down—there is no onslaught. Nothing comes. Why would it? There’s no conflict, no test to rise to, except for the challenge of maintaining grace as a loser.

And there is no force in the universe that angles itself to buoy those who need another chance. The universe is impersonal. Gravity’s effects vary by the inverse square law on the just and the unjust; evolution rewards winners and doesn’t care how they won. There’s no gene pool disqualification for impoliteness.

But the universe is only impersonal if you don’t consider people part of it. The righting of cosmic wrongs stops being the exclusive domain of powers more cosmic than us when you remember we are the cosmos.

There’s not room in even a 120-minute movie to allow every team member to come to the aid of every other team member: Even restricting it to just the ten we follow, that’s 45 interactions—and this is a comedy. But every foregrounded character either gives or receives meaningful assistance that tightens the family bond—the car-shooting scene takes place the morning after Falco has stood up for a teammate and taken the first punch in a bar fight—and the one-note characters earn brief moments of previously unavailable acceptance. Even the triumphant ending kicks off with a sacrifice.

In the movies, sacrifice is rewarded. What you get for it is yourself back, improved.

Keith
Keith Snyder is the critically acclaimed father of two and author of four Jason Keltner books. His thoughts can be found at  http://keithsnyder.wordpress.com/ and his company, TypeFlow, converts books to e-book format.