Books Review on Doubt, Ruined, and The Flick

Elisa Sun

Over the past a few weeks, the AP Lit class read three plays: Doubt, Ruined, and The Flick. Although these three plays are written about three totally different topics, I think it’s meaningful to juxtapose them to showcase some of my understandings in literature.

I’d like to divide three plays into two piles — Doubt and Ruined belong to one pile, and The Flick stands out by itself — Doubt and Ruined will be equally as good or bad depending to readers’ personal tastes. Yes some might argue that there are tiny little pieces in these two works that make one more interesting than the other, and I can write two more articles on parts the authors handled well and elements should be dealt more carefully. All of that is discussed in terms of the micro level of literary techniques. However, The Flick is a play fundamentally different, and I’m here to share some of my imprudent ideas with my peers to provide them with another perspective.

Let start from the most superficial level: when you finish Doubt and Ruined, you will have a clear idea of what the authors are trying to convince readers (at least you will feel like you understand a little bit). In doubt, the author attempted to uncover some darkest aspects of the church such as sexual abuse and the hierarchy order. In the Ruined, we understand that the author was condemning the corruption of the country, using sexual violence against women as a war strategy, as well as the culture of blaming victims which were the women in the play. There is a clear thread of moral judgments throughout the story that connect pieces of dialogues into a coherent play in order to express the central ideas. In contrast, what The Flick is trying to say seem rather peculiar. Maybe some readers can pick up personal growth as the theme of this play, but the play unfolds itself in a way against the common sense of Hollywood movies where teenagers experience adventures with friends and achieved the success in some areas. We know the protagonist Avery, a movie nerd, who seems to struggle with personal anxiety is trying to save the movie theater from going into digital films. There are two other characters in the play who are Avery’s coworkers. If we follow the writing style of Doubt or Ruined, it’s very likely these two characters should serve either as the positive or negative impulse to Avery. In fact, as how we are taught generations after generations in English classes, every segment of literature serves a purpose to the theme. We read the ending of Great Gatsby, and we’ll say the green light at Daisy’s dock represents greedy in our culture. Pick any dialogue in the Doubt or Ruined, you can ask a student how does this excerpt push the story forward to the climax. But with The Flick is different that none of the two coworkers are really interested in Avery’s insistence that one of them (Sam) told Avery directly that he doesn’t care about the platform movies play on at all. Besides, when we thought three workers are friends halfway through the play, the plot made a U-turn by the latter half that makes us question if we made this assumption in a rush. The man who is trying to digitize the movie theater might appear to be the villain to readers, and we expect their confrontation, but apparently, that is not the author’s intention since he doesn’t even appear on the stage.

Most human cannot bear their daily lives, that’s why we go to the theater: we expect to see something interesting, unusual, not likely to happen in our lives from a well-manufactured product which authors and directors compact the highlights in one’s life into a show. There are good endings, bad endings, simply depends on if the protagonist gets what he or she wants. Moral principles are inevitable — forgive me to use the terminology of history here — the metanarrative is pervasive. Every piece constructs a greater meaning, address a greater problem. But, what if we ask ourselves the question, what if a work doesn’t have any moral value in it at all?

Then it points towards humanity. We see part of ourselves through three characters’ shadow. Avery described how he is unable to get up from the bed, how he is anxious about his future through his dreams. When Sam tells Avery that he doesn’t mind the platform of the film, that was my reaction when I was reading Avery’s lines saying how digital films upset him. I think the most realistic part of the play is the scene when Avery comes to his coworkers ask for help because his new boss found out they’ve been taking money from the theater and blaming it all on Avery, and none of them decide to speak up for him. I understand it, it was not because they are the villains, but simply because they are afraid to lose their jobs. What the author did in The Flick can be seen as the application of — forgive me to use another terminology of history here– post-structuralism, which neglects the view that the human history is always progressive and falls under a greater theme. The author simply reconstructs events in our daily lives, mimicking the most natural human reactions. This is remarkable. It’s telling the audience that it’s okay to be ordinary people living ordinary lives and there are lots of other people in the world follow the similar path. Yet we can make connections to others, you are not alone. Happy and sad moments exist in our lives as the day and night, sometimes we might not get what we want, it’s okay.

This kind of writing would be somewhat experimental if we were in the 20th century, and I completely understand why The Flick won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. It’s my hope that this article can inspire my readers to look at contemporary literature through a different lens that focus on your feelings as an individual and finds joy in reading instead of guessing authors’ intentions.

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