Thursday, April 19, 2007

Life On Mars

WARNING - SPOILERS EXIST IN THIS POST REGARDING THE BBC SERIES 'LIFE ON MARS'.

I've been resisting writing about the brilliant TV series, Life On Mars, for a while now because I wanted to see the entire run. Two series, eight episodes per series, finite and with an ending. It's one of the best shows I've seen in years and if you get the chance then watch it - you won't be disappointed. I'm not going to go into any major detail about the show here, such as episode guides and the like, but I'll say this - if you yearn for shows like The Sweeny or vintage Minder, then you're gonna flip for this. Plus if you're a 20th Century Boy, like me, then you'll just adore the music and the cultural references contained within the shows (my all time favourite quote: "White dog shit! That takes me back."). What I do want to speak about is how I saw the ending, which has confused a lot of people, and what I think it meant.

You see, I believe that someone else has the same theory about death as I do. In fact I know that there's people out there with the same theories, but it's incredible seeing them up on the small screen as a TV series. You see I've always believed that when you die you are taken back to a time where you felt the most happiest, with all your memories and knowledge, at a perfect age and given the chance to exist there for as long as you want - a loop that can either never end or continue at your own will. The upshot is that you'll not make the same mistakes again - you're already armed with the knowledge of what's going to happen to the world, so you can fully enjoy it and take advantage of it.

In Life On Mars there's several recurring themes that backs this theory up. In the first episode the main character, Sam Tyler, is placed into a coma. He then 'wakes up' in 1973, with the sounds of David Bowie's Life On Mars playing in the background, the last song he heard in 2006 (the line, "Take a look at the lawman beating up the wrong guy, oh man, I wonder if he'll ever know, he's in the best-selling show, 'Is There Life on Mars?'" is also heard more than once, apt when you realise that DCI Gene Hunt spends a lot of time beating suspects). What we know is that he's not entirely happy with his lot in 2006 and years for a simpler time.

All the way through both series we get clues to Sam's true condition. He's in a deep coma with no real brain activity. That the plug nearly gets pulled on his life support backs this up - he's essentially brain dead, which means he's essentially dead (someone like Bronze John will tell me I'm wrong, but that's my belief anyway). If he's dead then he's not in a dream, as such, he's already in the afterlife, he's in heaven. His own heaven. A heaven where he can impart his knowledge, where he can further himself. Where he can interact with people from a time that he was at his most happiest - and how do we know the latter? In one episode he talks about going to see his last football match with his father, before his father leaves forever. He mentions it was one of the last times he was truly happy. Good enough for me.

For all his complaining Sam loves being part of 1973. He meets a woman and falls in love. He gets to meet both his parents, and even the younger version of himself (whom he can't face). He gets to tell his mother what to say to the younger version when the father runs off - he gets to allow his father to flee as a murder suspect. He saves the girl more than once. He feels alive and important, if a tad out of place, but he's adapting. All the time his spirit guide, the BBC test pattern girl (one of the show's genuinely freaky moments) keeps telling him that he doesn't belong, and he doesn't - he's not fully dead. There's the small matter of his physical self to deal with yet.

Red herrings pop up everywhere. I noticed the Wizard Of Oz references straight away - Frank Morgan, Hunt calling Tyler 'Dorothy' all the time and the continual disembodied voices asking Sam to 'come home'. However I dismissed all of that as being just too easy an explanation - and in the last part of the last show I felt vindicated. Here's what happened: Sam is cured. The doctors discover a tumor in his brain, it turns out to be inoperable but harmless but during the operation enough pressure is taken off his brain to wake him up. He leaves his friends (and his potential lover) back in 1973 in a life threatening situation. Seconds before he leaves he tells the girl that he'll never leave her - he's realised what she means to him, he realises this is where he belongs and he knows he wants to stay. Indeed as he wakes up he screams in frustration - conflicted with going back home or staying in the fantasy (which he's understanding to be Heaven for him). The choice isn't his to make and he's brought back to 'life' by medical science.

Sam tries to fit into his old life but can't - he's too distracted. For him 1973 was bright, sunny and simpler. 2006 is poorly lit, gloomy, overcast and depressing. Sam then speaks with his mother and explains what he's intending to do. He leaves a tape for the psych department explaining what he went through. He then goes to the roof of his building and takes a running jump.

He then 'wakes up' exactly where he left in 1973. He saves the day, gets the girl, becomes a hero and moves on. Ultimately, in a nice twist, it's Sam himself who turns off his own life support, albeit via a car radio. Sam is dead, he's in his own personal Heaven and there he'll stay, forever, truly happy. Win-win!

That's how I saw Life On Mars.

Death isn't something to be scared of. I've had one too many close encounters with the reaper and as such I have no fear of what's going to happen. When it comes, it comes. You can't stop it, you might delay it, but it's going to win (like the tax department - to use a cliche). What people do fear is what happens. Do you go to Heaven with the angels and live forever, as promised? Do you go to the fiery pits of Hell and burn for all your sins (hey - all you people to kill in the name of God, guess what? You're going to Hell for the most mortal of sins)? Do you become a ghost, a psychic imprint upon the Earth? At the end of the day no-one really knows. I don't buy into the John Edward school (even though my own sister does that kind of thing) and frankly I'm not sure I want to hear what people have to say. I believe that we make our own Heaven, or Hell, here on Earth was we live. We decide where we were the happiest and if we do the right thing then we get that chance. We know where we were the saddest, and if we screw up, guess what? That's where we go. I know it sounds simplistic, but to me it is that simple. In a way I want it to be that simple. I don't want it, nor do I need it, to be more complicated than that. In in my desire I think I'll win what I want, yet others won't. They might find the harpists and God in Heaven, or Satan in Hell and that's just fine. They might find Allah or Buddha. Excellent! Good on ya! You see, in my eyes, the afterlife is all about choices.

Feel free to disagree, but certainly watch Life On Mars...

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