Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Abyss

Just a short blog, I hope, on The Abyss, James Cameron's blockbuster that I happened to catch on the telly this evening.

If you haven't seen it, it's a film that certainly repays viewing, and it's never an effort to watch, as I often find with films these days. It is full of suspense but also strangely and rewardingly uplifting (excuse the pun, if you've seen it) at the end.

The subject matter is one that interests me greatly, since I work in the oil industry, as do the characters in the film. These good, hearty guys and gals are pitted against another groups of toughies, the military.

The difference between these two types is that the drillers show emotional strength, resilience if you like, while the Navy Seals show gung-ho toughness laced with psychosis and paranoia. If you're interested in how the world views offshore oil workers, have a read of this excellent essay.

I was fascinated by the dive routines in the film which seemed almost plausible but slightly unlikely, or even completely unlikely in the case of the dive to 2.5 miles down in a suit in which you breath oxygen-rich liquid like a fish. Don't worry says the Navy Seal, it's perfectly normal to collapse like that when you first start doing it. Yes, and for quite a long time afterwards I should think. Like, forever.

And also, how are you going to topple off the continental shelf and fall two miles vertically downwards then find what you were looking for exactly where you happen to stop. Geologically and physically, it's completely implausible, especially considering how he was bounced around on the way down. It was like Alice in Wonderland down the rabbit hole. (She has a lot to answer for!) Mind you, those characters he met two miles down were a bit unlikely as well, but it didn't seem to matter too much.

Strangely, I spent the whole of my childhood thinking about becoming a soldier, wondering about what regiment I would be in etc. I had books and books on tanks, guns, the history of the second world war etc. I read comics like 'The Victor' (it never occurred to me that there must also be 'A Vanquished'), and then there was 'Warlord', a slightly more cold war version of the military genre featuring spies as well. Yes, I was dead interested in all that.

I didn't know it, but I was growing up among the shock waves of the Second World War. In 1975, when I was ten years old, the Second World War seemed like ancient history. Now, another thirty years on, I realise how close it was.

I finally grew out of this interest in blood-letting at the age of seventeen when I rang my local territorial unit to see if I could join. I was surprised at the frosty reception on the other end of the telephone (there were no mobiles in those days) when I squeaked that I was interested in joining up. A voice simply said: "Name, Address?'. I gave them and then the telephone went dead.

The next day I received a flimsy brown envelope through the mailbox containing an even flimsier pamphlet. On it were the famous emblem of a winged dagger and the legend: "So you want to join the SAS?"

I never, ever thought of joining the army again.

It was a lucky escape. My years in university showed me how deluded I was in thinking I could handle that sort of thing, even as a Sapper, for example. But it was interesting to see, in this film, my 'possible' past pitted against my 'possible' present. All complete fantasy of course, but nonetheless, my fantasy.

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