Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Booker on "Four Weddings and a Funeral"

Comedy is one of the basic plots that Booker concerns himself with in "The Seven Basic Plots", and in the third section of his book, he looks at how in the last 200 years, we have seen increasing deviation from the proper role of the seven plots (which I will say more about at another time), due to the rise in significance of the ego above the Self. That sounds a little odd, perhaps, without having followed Booker's argument through, but if I understand it correctly, the Self is virtually the opposite of the ego.
... we see comedies which manage to retain the original combination of light-hearted humour with romantic love, but where there is no sense at the end of any real access of self-awareness: that fundamental moment of 'recognition' in the true comic archetype where we feel the story's centre of gravity finally moving from the claustrophobia of the ego to the liberation of the Self. In Four Weddings and a Funeral we see a group of middle-class young people stumbling through their lives in modern London in a fairly limited state of awareness; trying to work out who they should pair off with; attending each other's weddings; getting drunk (although for once external reality breaks into their muddled haze when one of their number dies, and is revealed to have been a homosexual). We finally see the hero and heroine coming to the climactic moment of 'recognition' when they are in a crowded church for his wedding to someone else. In the most embarrassing circumstances they suddenly realise that they are meant for each other after all, with a love they imagine to be so special and unique it transcends any need to go through the mere outward, social ritual of a wedding. We duly respond in our archetypally programmed way by finding this a touching conclusion. But we hardly have the sense that they have reached that transcendent state of cosmic, selfless union, bringing together a hwole community in joy and loving reconciliation, which, at the end of a Shakespearian comedy, can send an audience out of the theatre feeling that they are walking on air and that all the world has been renewed. The hero and heroine of Four Weddings are still the same rather limited, egocentric couple that they have been all along. In this sense the film provides yet another illustration of what happens when Comedy is taken over by the ego and turned into only a sentimental vestige of itself.

"The Seven Basic Plots", Christopher Booker, p.397-8

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