At once playfully satirical, coldly logical, laughably absurdist and philosophically probing, Waiting for Godot
is one of the most intriguing plays in recent memory. Buried within its pages of odd dialogue are both a scathing indictment of humanity and an earnest search for its place in the universe.
And yet Waiting for Godot
's reputation is dubious at best, the common objection being that nothing happens in the play. But if you look at the play under a different light, it's actually full of interesting events. V and E remove their hats and footwear; they consider leaving the area; they run into some other people and have a conversation; they wonder where the hell Godot might be. Pop culture ignores boredom; that's why you never see Tony Stark micturating or Katniss Everdeen shopping for a new bra. Beckett elevates the banal to the same level as Michael Bay does explosions.
Superhero movies and action films ostensibly teach us lessons about the indomitability of the human spirit or the power of teamwork. But how can we draw lessons about humanity from characters who share not in our quotidian sorrows? The reality is that these action heroes are not humans; they're simulacra. And while simulacra are important in works of art, we end up with a strawman when we attempt to distill from them some grand truth about human nature.
When Beckett starts his distillation process, he reduces humanity to a different set of constituent elements—boredom and irritability and jealousy and a host of other unpleasant ideas. Yes, the plot is boring, but it's necessary because humans are boring
. Yes, V and E are dull, but why should that surprise us? Humans are dull
. (The part when they decide to hang themselves but don't have anything to form a noose is a particularly choice bit of satire, no?) Beckett has scraped the things that we think define humanity (money, love, religion et al
.) off the slate entirely. Pop culture is a palimpsest, a soupy mess of conflicting ideologies vying for attention. In Waiting for Godot
, the only psychological mess we find is the one we bring to the work ourselves. Just as the literal alchemists of yesteryear were sure they could make gold from copper and selenium, pop culture is the work of modern-day alchemists who desperately seek to produce a truth about humanity from all the wrong elements. But Waiting for Godot
is akin to nuclear fission, an incomparably powerful blasting-away of all that is foreign to humanity. It is telling that in the 1940s, the power of the atom proved much more powerful than anything humans could accomplish with their bare hands. Beckett was right in more ways than one.
I can't help but think that Samuel Beckett might have laughed ruefully when people criticized his play for being boring or pretentious; it is precisely those sentiments he is critiquing in humanity. On some level, those who criticize this play are in fact pointing out their own flaws. As such, Waiting for Godot
operates on a metatextual level, for it not only deals with the ugly foundation stones of humanity but also dares the audience to pretend that those same stones do not exist. A twist of cruel irony and a fantastic way to end a play about the species that thrives on it.
(This review is sort of inspired by Jonathan's review
, although we attack it in decidedly different ways.)