Horsemen, Bikers, and Psychopaths, Oh My!

January 29, 2008 § 1 Comment

Now reading: Good Omens, Gaiman and Pratchett.

The apocalypse nears: the Four Horsemen have met at a roadside diner and are riding their hogs toward Armageddon. Now, I was reading this in the Carolina Theatre here in Durham tonight, waiting for There Will Be Blood to start. Something about the setting bounced a pinball around my head; the chain of thoughts was nicely completed by TWBB itself. Indulge me:

The jokey treatment of the Horsemen in Good Omens–War, Famine, Pollution (taking over for the prematurely retired Pestilence), and Death as bikers of the Hell’s Angels variety–reminded me of one of my all-time favorite movie villains, the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse in Raising Arizona. That dude–you probably remember; how could you forget? Tex Cobb as Leonard Smalls, a snarling, ugly bounty hunter–was a kind of half-joke, like a lot of Coen Bros. characters. GO was published in 1990, merely 3 years after RA‘s release. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to posit a lineage there.

The Coens used the Lone Biker as a half-joke, but the dream sequence in which he is introduced is no joke. Brother, what a dream sequence! Hurtling through a desert landscape; delicate flowers catching fire in his wake; picking off jackrabbits with his sawed-off from his bike; going faster and faster, driving up to the Arizona mansion, right up the wall, into the nursery.

The virtuosity of that sequence–Nic Cage’s earnest declaration that nothing could survive in its path, the brilliant, wild angles and the quick cuts to a fevered, panicked H.I. in bed–leads me to see the Lone Biker as a precursor to the Coens’ depiction of Anton Chigurh, in No Country for Old Men. He’s the only character remotely like Chigurh in the Coens’ work (well, except for maybe Peter Stormare’s character in Fargo, but he was really more of a golem with a bad creator than anything). Nothing can survive in his path, either–unless the coin says it can.

And then the movie started; and without being a total spoiler, I’ll say that the phrase “I am the Third Revelation!” led me to think of a certain someone as the Lone Oilman of the Apocalypse. Arid, windswept landscapes; lone figures of pure (or nearly pure, in Daniel Plainview’s case) malevolence; intimations of existential despair and political allegory. The end times are certainly on our minds, these days (although, as far as the current cinematic variants go, these films seem a little eight-months-ago to me; I’m too jazzed about Obama now to completely buy into the circa Winter 2007 bleakness that seems to be captured here).

Now, as a side note, none of these are my own personal favorite depiction of the Horsemen. That would have to be reserved for the utterly terrifying, utterly unexpected Four Mannequins of the Apocalypse dangling from the ceiling at House on the Rock in Wisconsin.  Some might say they seem out of place at an amusement park-cum-museum-cum-funhouse; I say, if you’re an eccentric millionaire who’s built weird collections of dolls, instruments, models, and other bric-a-brac, and who’s built his own building to house them, using no architectural plans, then you’d be crazy not to leave your visitors with the sense that the end is nigh.

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§ One Response to Horsemen, Bikers, and Psychopaths, Oh My!

  • jaime says:

    Yay for mentioning the House on the Rock horsemen! What’s creepier than having hundreds of dolls staring at you from their carousel mounts? Looking up and finding the four horsemen presiding over everything.

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