The Gospel According to Randal Graves

I know I’ve been doing book reviews on Fridays. This is not about a book and it’s not a review, because I’ve seen Clerks way too many times and have way too many ideas about it to do a short, spoiler-free summary. But hey, it’s also not Friday because I was tired. This is going to be more like “my thoughts on Clerks and why it’s important and what we can learn from it if we want to learn anything at all.” I’m not even going to try to do a spoiler-free section. This here is all you get, you’ve been warned. But the movie is 22 years old, I’m assuming if you want to see it you already have by now. Otherwise…go watch it! It’s on Netflix, even.

So Clerks.

Is it the best movie of all time? Um…no. Is it the best movie of Kevin Smith’s career? That’s probably subjective and I’m sure there’s someone somewhere who thinks it is, but again I’m going to say no. Is it even my favorite of the View Askew movies? …No????

But I have at times in the past called it all those things. It is a brilliant piece of work, especially considering his experience level at the time, and I love it soooo much. It is also an interesting microcosm of the whole View Askew-niverse, since I doubt he expected it would turn into a whole big series when he wrote and filmed this. There has to have been a point when he considered that this might be his only film anyone would ever see and therefore planned to tell a complete story with it.

That story is basically about how this jerk named Dante made a big mess of his life and decided to fix it by changing nothing at all. Because Dante, everybody.

I hate Dante so much. I also consider him the most relatable character in any of the films and think we have a lot in common, which is probably why I can’t stand him. Dante embodies all of my worst traits and wallows in them.

Horrible people are kind of a recurring Thing in Kevin Smith movies. I appreciate that. Even outside View Askew, there are plenty of cringe-worthy moments even from otherwise fairly sympathetic characters that sting because we know we’re not perfect and we’ve all said and done terrible things to people who didn’t deserve it. (There’s one in Jersey Girl that hit me so hard I can’t even watch it anymore, even though I like the movie as a whole.)

But within that universe, there are several versions of this best friend duo where one person (one man, I don’t think this happens with his female characters as far as I can remember right now) is a horribly offensive loudmouth with hidden depths while the other is a more politically correct soft-spoken nice guy who’s kind of a jerk underneath it all. Not a bad person, just not very aware of their flaws.

And I dislike this a lot because the offensive loudmouth I do not want to like at all often delivers really important lines that cut to the central problem in the film and expose all those flaws. We wind up hearing the truths we avoid from the mouths of…well, frankly, someone who reminds me a whole lot of a certain orange creep we’ve all been hearing about way too much lately. It’s not pleasant.

I don’t think that means we need to pretend differences of opinion never matter or make friends with people who vote to take away our rights, but it is a handy reminder that we’re sometimes really terrible people too and that the terrible people we want nothing to do with in our own lives are still human beings with good points of their own, however deeply buried. We don’t have to like them or seek them out or try to find their good points, but we do have to realize they aren’t actually villains in a film/comic/whatever. And as a UU, recognizing them as a person means recognizing they are deserving of dignity and the right to speak their minds (and to live with the consequences).

But this movie is not really about that. This movie is about Dante. And therefore, because of the annoying familiarity I mentioned earlier, this movie is about me. It’s about facing the things about myself that hold me back and the ways I whine and fixate and blame others when I’m unhappy instead of changing my situation.

So, what does Randal (this movie’s offensive loudmouth) suggest as a solution? Here are my favorite quotes from the Gospel of Randal:

“Hockey’s hockey, at least we got to play.”
“Have some chips, you’ll feel better.”
“I’m happy with my situation for now.”

I love this. Who cares how long you get to do something or whether it went according to plan? Think about the gain rather than the loss. Take joy in the little things instead of obsessing over disappointment. It’s fine to just be happy in what seems like less than you’re supposed to have. Even if you want something more eventually, you don’t have to have it all now. But hey, if you are unhappy with where you are right now? Don’t whine about it, try to get someplace better.

Yes, of course a lot of that is steeped in privilege, there are things we can’t change that are worth being angry about, etc. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take comfort where we find it and strive for solutions when we have the ability. And it’s also largely in response to things that just don’t matter as much. Dante isn’t depressed about war, poverty, or racism. He’s upset about his ex girlfriend dating someone else and his current girlfriend having been with other guys in the past and not getting to play hockey for more than 12 minutes during his work day. Dante’s an ass. But I also know what it’s like to get wrapped up in myself and teeter between two things because the path I didn’t take suddenly looks so easy and tempting. And I know from experience that leads to nothing but more suffering and frustration.

(I’ve got this whole other thing about downer endings and the meaning of life and responsibility, but this is long so I think that’ll have to wait. Bonus post!)

Discussion time! What do you think of the movie, if you’ve seen it? Where do you find unlikely sources of truth and wisdom (by which I’m referring to both films and irritating people)? How do you deal with your own flaws and find the humanity in people you vehemently disagree with on important things?

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