Friday, September 23, 2011

The End of the Movie

If I had to give an award for the most understated but profound song written in the last decade, it would be hard to beat ‘End of the Movie’, by Cake.

As a diversion, The Greek complains that he doesn’t like my music posts. To which I pre-empitively respond, ‘that’s because you don’t click on the video and listen to any of the songs I’m talking about, dumbass.’

The song begins by listing a litany of misery that will befall all of us, eventually
‘People you love
will turn their backs on you
You’ll lose your hair, your teeth
Your knife will fall out of its sheath’
The second verse provides the counterpoint from lost pleasures to enforced misery:
‘People you hate
Will get their hooks into you.
They’ll pull you down, you’ll frown
They’ll tar you and drag you through town.’
It’s true. Thus is the first Noble Truth, as the Great Sage put it.
But the chorus is the most interesting part:
‘But you still don’t like to leave
before the end of the movie.
No you still don’t like to leave
before the end of the show.’
What a wonderful, fascinating metaphor for the human condition. No matter how crap life gets, people tend to hang on. But I think the psychology is exactly right. Sometimes, people just want to stick around to see what happens next, even if they’re not really enjoying it – just like sitting through to the end of a bad movie.

This is something broader than the sunk cost fallacy, where people throw good money after bad (so to speak). The tendency to hang on until the end goes beyond whether things are good or bad, to just the core aspect that people will keep on living, because that's the only stable outcome in evolution.

It’s also quite understated too. It’s not about the dramatic instances of people making ferocious determined efforts against the odds to stay alive. Instead, most of the time people do it fairly unconsciously, just the same way they sit through the whole film – you want to see what happens next, and there’s a chance that it might get better. Beyond that, you don’t give it much thought.

This may be one of my favourite metaphors in modern music. If most songs have, at most, one really interesting line or idea that makes the whole song, this is a pretty damn excellent one.

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