Friday, August 6, 2010

On Meeting My "Cyrus"

Most people who know about Ayn Rand have heard the story of Cyrus. He was the lead character in a pulp magazine she read as a child which later became the model from which she would later mold all of her heroes. Because of the theme of this blog in particular, we’ve had a number of discussions of how this relates to us personally. We always ask each other “who was your Cyrus?”

Well, last weekend, I met mine. I’ve
spent a lot of time writing about an amazing character she helped create through through her portrayal of her. Seeing this character for the first time changed the whole way I thought about heroes, and heroines, specifically. The movie was A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: the Dream Master, and the character was Alice Johnson, the eponymous "Dream Master."

It had a major impact on me at the time I saw it. I was about 11 or 12 and watching my first Nightmare on Elm Street movie. It was on network television so it was pretty heavily edited. I found it very fascinating; the dream element was an interesting angle, and, in all honesty, I was already well aware of Freddy Kreuger, who at the time was one of the biggest “horror heroes” in a new subgenre of "slasher" film that had developed in this time frame.

But back then, and even more so now, what caught my eye was Alice Johnson. She seems like a fairly minor character at first (as is often the case in slasher films), very mousy, too shy to let her crush know that she likes him, suffering silently the abuses of an alcoholic father. But, over the course of the film, she slowly develops into a genuine heroine whose crowning moment is when she does the unthinkable in a Nightmare film.

There are always subplots in Nightmare movies about the lengths to which people go to avoid sleep: caffine pills, coffee, cola, loud music, etc. But Alice? After all her friends have been killed and the only one left is the boy she had a crush on who is now at Freddy’s mercy, what does she do? She races home, she suits up for a fight, does some other really cool things, and takes SLEEPING PILLS! She is so tough and so brave that she intentionally takes sleeping pills in a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. This leads to her fighting Freddy on his terms, in his world, and winning.

She would go on to star in one more movie, which dealt with themes of entering adulthood and taking the responsibility that implies. Between the two films where she’s entered a relationship with her crush, Freddy finally gets him, but not before the boyfriend leaves her a gift.

There’s an idea that the "final girl" of horror movies has to be very chaste, drug free, and virginal, but, in this story, Alice gets pregnant. She keeps the baby and defeats Freddy one more time.

This story and this character just resonated with me, then and now. I went through a phase early after discovering Objectivism where I tried denying my love of horror at its best. In the long run I realized that this is a very personal decision, and the gyst of Ayn Rand’s dismissal of horror ultimately amounts to “Horror is vile, repugnant, anti-mind, and anti-life, except when it isn’t.” And just because I want to write characters like Francisco D’Anconia doesn’t mean that now I don’t want to write characters like Alice Johnson.

All that being said, I had the opportunity to meet Miss Wilcox last weekend. There’s an inherent problem when you’re a fan of genre fiction, especially films, that your heroes will often disappoint you, simply because they don’t place as much importance on certain aspects of their work that you do. I don’t necessarily think that it’s something you can blame on the performer, but it doesn’t make your heart sink any less when it does happen. But at the same time, it’s all the more impressive and fulfilling when, even if they don’t share your level of enthusiasm, they understand it, they respect it, and they appreciate it. When they can see through the jitters, and the gushing, and the trivia you recite, and understand that there is a meaning behind all. “Your work means something very special to me. Something sacred, something that defines a big part of who I am. I know that even if it was the job that defined your career, it was just a job to you at the time. What you helped create was something wonderful, thank you.”

Keeping in mind that I had a much less sophisticated version of this going through my head for the interview she granted me, enjoy her basically carrying me through this interview.