Literature and Film as Modern Mythology

By William K. Ferrell | Go to book overview
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Chapter 8
The Steep Hills of Thalia, Texas

The Last Picture Show

by Larry McMurtry

In order to place The Last Picture Show into a mythological perspective, we begin by introducing a novelist, playwright, and essayist who was able to overcome the depressive aspects of nihilistic existentialism to find a purpose or meaning in life. In 1940-43, while France was under the occupation of Nazi Germany, a French writer, Albert Camus, a contemporary and one- time personal friend of Jean-Paul Sartre, interpreted a Greek myth as a bridge between existentialism and teleology (meaning or purpose in life). While suffering the oppression of Nazi occupation and serving in the French resistance movement, he penned an essay interpreting into modern terms the myth of Sisyphus. Camus saw Sisyphus as an absurd hero, an oxymoron. He was absurd in the condition of his suffering but heroic in his fulfillment of it. "His [ Sisyphus] scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing." Ironically, it is in the accomplishment of nothing that Camus found the greatest meaning. (For a contemporary application of the principle, Camus may have been the source of Jerry Seinfield's inspiration for his successful television sitcom, which was, according to its creator, a show about nothing.)

Around 700 B.C.E., the Sisyphus story was included in poetry written by the Greek poet Hesiod ( Theogeny). This is a story about a wealthy Corinthian (a king in some translations) who was able to defy both the gods and death. Sisyphus, in addition to being wealthy and a community leader was most of all a trickster capable of fooling the great god Zeus and his brother Hades, lord of death; it seems that Zeus had kidnapped Aegina,


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Literature and Film as Modern Mythology


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