Schopenhauer on the Bayou

By Gillmor, Alison | Winnipeg Free Press, March 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Schopenhauer on the Bayou


Gillmor, Alison, Winnipeg Free Press


HBO's TRUE DETECTIVE mixes a whodunit, nihilism, obscure literature and Louisiana detectives. Somehow it all works

I resisted True Detective for a while. The HBO series, which follows sunken-eyed loner Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and his supposedly straight-shooting partner Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) as they investigate the death of a lost girl named Dora Lange, seemed to be trying too hard to hit the obligatory marks for overwrought cable-TV crime shows.

There are the damaged, difficult men. There are the elaborately staged murders, clearly the work of one of those symbolically inclined serial killers. And there are the women, mostly sidelined in the usual roles: wife, troubled teenaged daughter, prostitute, stripper, corpse.

But I ended up getting hooked by the ineffable weirdness of the "talking in cars" part of the series, in which the two men drive through the flooded-out flatlands of rural Louisiana while Rust goes on and on about existential dread.

Rust can be antisocial and silent. But put him in a moving automobile and he gets positively chatty about the tragic burden of consciousness, the futility of life, the impossibility of love,and the dreary determinism of human nature.

Basically, True Detective is like a ride-along with Schopenhauer.

In philosophical terms, Rust explains, he's a pessimist. "Human consciousness was a tragic misstep in human evolution," he tells us. "We are things that labour under the illusion of having a self."

Or how about, "Death created time to grow the things it would kill?" With its comic combo of murky poetry and undergraduate-stoner cosmology, that would probably be my personal favourite.

Marty, on the other hand, is pretty much unimpressed: "People round here don't think like that," he says stolidly.

Maybe not, but guys like Nic Pizzolatto, southern novelist and True Detective's creator and writer, think like that. And fixated Internet fans definitely think like that.

The series starts with two detectives, who are, in turn, being interrogated by two more detectives. Finally, the viewers themselves become detectives. True Detective is carefully calculated to create Rust-like obsessives, consumed not just with the question of murder but with the larger mysteries of life, death and time.

Concentrated into eight episodes -- with only two more to come -- True Detective has sparked a frenzy of Internet-theorizing, semiotic speculation and clue-hunting.

We're tracking arcane references, Googling Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence, checking Wikipedia for an explanation of M-brane theory (after a standout scene in which Rust explains multi-dimensional space-time using old beer cans).

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