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Unhappy Trails: Suicide at the Movies

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The ending of the movie Seven Pounds didn't surprise me but it did weird me out. I wasn't weirded out by a character in a movie committing suicide: been there, seen that. But it struck me that I had recently watched a bunch of movies with the same sort of ending.

So, I began to think back and within seconds, I came up with three more movies where the characters committed suicide at the end: I Am Legend, 30 Days of Night, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

I Am Legend also ended with the main character, Robert Neville, committing suicide. And another strange thing is that Will Smith played both of the suicidal main characters in that film and Seven Pounds. In the movie 30 Days of Night, the main character, Sheriff Eben Oleson, commits suicide after turning into a vampire. At the end of the movie Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the Silver Surfer blows himself up.

There are lots of movies that contain suicides, but what's different about these movies is that the main characters commit suicide in order to benefit and/or protect other people.

In Seven Pounds, Ben Thomas commits suicide in order to donate his organs to the people who need them. In I Am Legend, Robert Neville commits suicide in order to protect a woman and a child and the antidote they carry. In 30 Days of Night, Sheriff Oleson commits suicide so that he won't kill or infect anyone else. In Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the Silver Surfer blows himself up in order to destroy Galactus and save the earth.

The idea of someone sacrificing themselves in order to protect others is common in combat: a soldier falls on a live grenade to save the rest of his buddies. Or it's common for a police officer or a firefighter to sacrifice their life in order to protect someone.

So, why do we have this rash of suicidal characters in our movies? Is it because we're at war and we need heroes? Is it because of our bad economic times and we need to look up to characters who make sacrifices for others?

And what's the other side of the coin? Are all these characters heroes or just depressed, stressed, or mentally ill? Why didn't these characters pursue other solutions? Ben Thomas could have redeemed himself by working for an organ transplant organization or a charity. Robert Neville could have crawled into the crawlspace with the woman and the child and possibly lived. Sheriff Oleson could have locked himself in his own jail to protect others from his bloodlust. I'm not sure what options the Silver Surfer had, but is he a hero or a suicide bomber?

All of these movies were directed by different directors and the screenplays were written by different writers. And yet, both the directors and the writers of all of these movies came to the same conclusion: suicide was the best choice for these characters and the best way to end their movies.

Because of globalization, is our culture becoming more like some Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures in which suicide is more acceptable? I'm not a religious person, but recently it was reported that the United States is becoming less religious. Is that changing our society? Assisted suicide is now legal in two states. Is that an indication of how our culture and values are changing? Or were the writers and directors of these movies just being lazy or unimaginative and going for shock value?

I don't watch just happy movies. In fact, I really like Irish and Japanese movies, which commonly are scripted so that almost every character is dead by the end of the movie. Angela's Ashes is one of my favorite movies. But I'm also sure that I don't want to watch movie after movie in which the main character commits suicide at the end.

We'll see how this trend plays out. And the sad thing is that even suicide will eventually lose its shock value.

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  • SPOILER: I just watched Gran Torino on DVD and it also has the main character committing suicide. What is going on with these screenwriters?