The Dark Side

I was flipping through the NYT last Sunday and came across a short collection of riffs from filmmakers about their favourite “Holiday Movies”. The following, submitted by screenwriter David Benioff, was regarding Planes Trains and Automobiles by the late John Hughes:

Hughes once wrote: “I understood that the dark side of my middle-class, middle-American suburban life was not drugs, paganism or perversion. It was disappointment. There were no gnawing insects beneath the grass. Only dirt. I also knew that trapped inside every defeat is a small victory, and inside that small victory is the Great Defeat.”

I immediately caught the reference Benioff (via Hughes) was making and it struck a chord. You see, when we (in filmic terms) discuss the “dark side” of the middle-class in America, who else is this synonymous with? Correct: David Lynch. And was it not Lynch’s seminal dark-side-of-middle-class-America, Blue Velvet, which features – literally – gnawing insects beneath the grass at the beginning? Oh, and the drugs and sexual perversion? Still don’t believe me? Try this: Blue Velvet came out in ’86. Planes Trains and Automobiles? That was 1987.

When I read Hughes’ quote, I knew he had more to say about it. I could tell that he thought Hughes’ film (and perspective on America) got short shrift.

In any case, what I’m saying is Hughes was picking on Lynch, perhaps more so picking on all of the cineastes and self-styled torch holders of American Surrealism. Look, he’s saying (or I’m paraphrasing), why does any intelligent discussion of the “dark side” have to fast-forward to the DevilWhy are we in such a rush to point to the murkiest common denominator?

I think Hughes’ perspective is more realistic. Perhaps even more frightening because it is anything but abstract. If there’s anything which immobilizes the positivism of American  can-do – an adult Boogeyman if you will – it is the spectre of defeat. It is, after all, failure. There is nothing which cuts to the heart of our civilized fears with more power than failure, pure and simple. We do not want it infecting us. We do not want it living beside us, dying slowly.

I like the drama (nee opera) of Lynch’s perspective. But it is only that: one perspective. I feel we cheat ourselves by claiming that one perspective as definitive before we’ve truly allowed ourselves to look at the whole landscape of the human psyche.

I also think John Hughes had a good soul.


2 Replies to “The Dark Side”

  1. Hey I know this is an old post but I just came across your blog today when I googled "John Hughes quote on gnawing insects." I'd first seen the quote in a NYT obit, not by Manohla Dargis, but by their other main film critic, whose name escapes me.

    The way you deconstructed the Hughes quote with the David Lynch reference was great. I see from your most recent blog post you're moving to the dark side (psychotherapy). I'm working (not working would be more honest) on a screenplay about therapy, amongst other things. Perhaps we will meet one day at an awards ceremony lol.


    PS Not to be too imperialistic but us Americans look at Canada as one of the provinces, and as a province all things Canadian get lumped together (the same probably goes for empires too, when viewed from the provinces). The first thing I thought of when I saw you're Canadian is the great Montreal music blog Said the Gramophone ( for a great example of creative music blogging). The second thing I thought of was when I saw that Toronto was your home town (not Montreal): a another great Canadian gift to the world, the pair of U of T scholars, Harold Innes and Marshall Macluhan. I suspect they, like John Hughes, also had good souls.

  2. Paul,

    Thanks very much for the comment. I'd forgotten about this post (and Hughes' quote). Thanks also for the link to that music site. May I also recommend another music blog, by another Canadian: . I think you will find it dovetails nicely with what you sent me.

    Keep working on that screenplay.

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