Written by: Mich Medvedoff
Like a cinematic Tootsie Roll pop, there is sometimes a hidden story inside the very movie you are watching.
Funny Farm (1988) directed by George Roy Hill depicts the tragic, re-occurring drama of humanity: fleeing the savannas of Africa, early humans were eager to build the metropolis; and now that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, modern man seems to want to go right back to the rural plains again.
WHAT HAPPENS: Andy and Elizabeth Farmer traded the rat-race for rats in scenic (i.e isolated), breathtaking (i.e insignificant) Vermont countryside. Why would a young couple quit their jobs and drop-out? *Hint, there is only one reason why any white man “persecuted” by modernity does this sort of thing….
Write. Great. American. Novel.
Take away the suit, the tie, the lunch box… and it’s obvious “Funny Farm” is Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
SIMILARITIES: Hounded-husbands Andy Farmer and Jack Torrance have a story they want to tell. Or, at least they have shit inside of them that they need to get out… So where do you escape to when you are feeling your lowest and after you quit your job? The one place where friends and steady income can’t find you? THE COUNTRY. (Of course, these men don’t consider first why humans left the country for the city to begin with!)
What are just some of the fun things will the White American Man encounter on his mythic journey to Gooberville?
1. Corpse in the yard (often more than one… and usually associated with Indian burial grounds).
2. Writing room that doesn’t get much action.
3. Nose-dive into a spiral of madness after drinking, endangering those that support you the most (i.e the wifey).
4. Wintertime always spells DOOM. (If you’re gonna go, migrate in the Spring).
5. Eventually, over the course of these gloomy tales, the wives grow a tailbone… developing from an amoeba-type character into full fledged adults with perhaps… dreams of their own (?)
UNIVERSALITY: City-life is great for Chinese takeout and maybe a little entertainment (theatrical performance of the “Lion King” or a 3D IMAX movie). But when you remove those 3D glasses, and just see the actual 3D world (yuck), those primitive instincts to hunt, mate, and kill gurgle up. And the only thing socially acceptable to do about it is to flee the city and write a “novel” (we can’t just call them a “book” because the word “book” is boor-ing).
Often in these stories, the family isn’t keen on cohabiting with the husband’s new Cro-Magnon-self, and marital problems ensue.
MESSAGE: Stories are social mirrors. Their purpose is to broadcast messages we can’t admit to ourselves. So why does the husband-out-of-water narrative recur in stories?
Because we have drives deep within us that society cannot gratify. In Freud’s “Das Unbehagen in der Kultur,” (“Civilization and its Discontents” for the non-German speaking audience), society frowns upon the primitive drives of the individual and promotes conformity, repression, and your run-of-the-mill despondent suburban existence.
In English, this means, if you feel like killing someone… say your boss… you cannot act on it (unless you have really good lawyers). But you can convert this aggression into something creative… like a book! And if you don’t see that book through… well, there are lots of distractions (cable, meds, beer, sports, internet, take your pick).
The Farmers and Torrances of the World took a risk in leaving the psychiatric ward of modern life for the snowbound homesteads beyond. In such stories (The Mosquito Coast, Misery, Deliverance) we admire these city folks for gambling away their urban lifestyle (because often, we dare not ourselves). And we’re relieved when we discover that the cabin fever of the city isn’t nearly as bad as the cabin fever in the country. Particularly when one is too distracted to write (with a new season of “House of Cards,” who wants to be stuck in front the laptop?).