The Tea Sipper's Guide to Absurdity
If the universe is meaningless, should we laugh or cry? According to the Theater of the Absurd, born on the Left Bank in the 1940s and now on life support in a million high school drama clubs, neither laughter nor tears is appropriate. Instead, we are enjoined to watch actors shuffle onto a half-lit stage with no scenery (except maybe a dead tree), glare at us with befuddled expressions, and (either by talking or by not talking) say nothing at all.
I always wondered why, if the universe were meaningless, we had to sit through plays by Beckett, Genet, and Pinter. Why not attend lavish productions of Broadway musicals? Or skip the theater and go roller skating? Or (pushing the envelope here) kidnap small children and drop them into vats of boiling oil?
Some (not all) of the same questions seem to have occurred to Douglas Adams, author of the 1970s radio series, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," which over the next 30 years spawned several novels, a TV series, and now the top-grossing film in America. If the universe is meaningless, then why not follow the example of the hero, an ineffectual Brit named Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman), and hitch a ride on a passing spaceship, because one fine morning the Earth blows up with him still in his jammies?
Strange but true: most of the Adams fans out there seem to find the universe profoundly meaningful. Why else would they be blogging so madly about how the forces of evil (Touchstone Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment) have corrupted the pure art of their shining hero (Adams)? One is tempted to say, get a religion. Most of the big ones are at least as clever as Adams.
Oh, well. The movie is fun. I liked the singing dolphins - the second most intelligent life form (after mice) bidding farewell to the third most intelligent (us) by singing, "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish." I liked the Babel Fish, a life form that when stuck into the ear of any other life form, enables it to understand the languages of all. I liked the crusty female computer who, after humming away for untold years, announces the answer to the ultimate question: "42." I liked the no-nonsense planet designer, Slartibartfast (Bill Nighy) who won an award for the Norwegian fjords.
And I especially liked the cool, minimalist graphics used to illustrate lessons from the guidebook of the title. For instance, after the main story ends, there's a tag about how the denizens of a distant galaxy become so enraged at the rebuilt Earth, they send a mighty invasion force to destroy it. But (as we see in the nifty little drawings) they miscalculate the scale, and their force arrives no bigger than a golf ball and is gulped down by a suburban dog.
This is a very cool meaninglessness. Indeed, they could have made the whole movie out of these graphics, and I would have skipped a whole evening of Albee to see it.