I’m standing on the subway platform, its late in the evening. In front of me is a poster of Furious 7, in a few days i’m gonna watch it. For a moment, I am acutely aware that Paul Walker’s death is real. There’s nothing advertised about the movie, that makes it relevant that Paul has died, but the story is now touched with this tragedy. The show must go on.
This isn’t really a review, because I can say everything that i love about Fast & Furious forever. I can describe how it shows me a future where its unremarkable if an entire cast are people of color. I can describe the breathtaking, jaw-dropping over-the-top car-fu scenes. That one of the best knock-down drag out fights was between two women in beautiful dresses, and it manages to be just as much of a brawl as any of the leading men would have and not treat them as “Here’s your sexy cat-fight.” By now, you’re either on board with what Fast & Furious has done right as a series, or you’re still stuck in a world where the franchise hasn’t grown since 2001. If you want to catch up with how the genre’s changed, or why it’s an important film franchise, you can read everything i can say about it here, here, and here.
When The Fast & The Furious debuted, I was fifteen years old. I am now almost double that age. None of the individual films are my favorite movies of all time, instead they exist as a whole. I watch them like i’m hanging out with an old friend. They sound like me, they come from where I come from, they look like my family, they look like my friendships. Now one of my friends has died. When does a story transition from a piece of fiction you consume, to a piece of fiction that you participate in? Where is that line that we all cross, where a story becomes woven into your own life? Where it no longer is fiction, because it’s changing who you are. When do we finally transition into the aether, and become a story ourselves?
I lost a friend to cancer. I saw her crying on the floor, I spoke to her about dying. I miss her, and so sometimes I go online and look at my last facebook conversations with her. I finally threw away a dress of hers that had somehow been packed with some old clothes of mine. Once, a human body fit into it, stretched it and pulled it in different ways. Now, it is just fabric that i have no use for. But it’s harder for me to delete a conversation online than to discard a dress, it is the last story i have of hers. I didn’t believe in an afterlife, I don’t know if i do, but i can’t shake this undeniable feeling that she exists. Maybe she exists simply cause she existed, so always is somewhere on a timeline of this universe. Chemicals burn, pages turn, cameras flash, and our existence is etched forever in infinite ways on the universe. But more importantly, the people we meet and love and miss, make a timeless mark on our souls.
I left Furious 7 feeling like i left a wake. Somewhere, without ever meaning to, after watching these fake characters do the most fake stunts possible, somewhere in there, the actors in this series gave a part of themselves away and i gained a part of them. I’ve never seen a film break kayfabe. Kayfabe is a wrestling term that refers to the staged events you see during a match, the characters, the events, are all “true”. It is wrestling, this strange entertainment, that regularly straddles a very fine line between what the audience knows is fake, what the audience knows is real, and what the audience knows is fake but will accept as real. It is a complex and unique way of telling and experiencing a story, that actually leaves most people unable to understand how it works. “You know it’s fake, right?” is the common criticism, but reveals the strange unexamined borders in our lives where suspension of disbelief begins and ends. Even when films may be intentionally meta, even if they break the fourth wall, there still remains another wall. The fiction of the film is maintained, even if its making a commentary on fiction. In this way, Kayfabe is 100% in other fictions, one never has to question where reality begins and ends.
As the movie finishes, the characters watch Paul Walker’s character, play on the beach with his son and wife. Then they stop playing characters. Dom Torretto just becomes Vin Diesel, Brian O’Connor just becomes Paul Walker. But because Paul Walker is dead, you are hit with the sad truth, you are watching a ghost. He’s laughing, and we can see him forever on the beach, this ghost formed out of story, but he’s not here anymore, he’s not there, where is he then? Vin Diesel eulogizes him, but there’s no separation between the plot of this film, and the reality that Brian O’Conner isn’t ‘retiring’ in the film, Paul Walker has passed away.. We are left with this final scene; Paul Walker/Brian O’Connor, driving away down a road, as the camera pans into the sky. Dom Torretto drives away, leaving Brian O’Connor on the beach to his family. As he waits at an intersection, a car pulls up, and we hear Paul Walker’s voice, “You know i couldn’t let you leave without saying goodbye, ” Vin responds “It’s never goodbye,”
We live on in other people’s stories, we live in memories and fictions about them. We don’t fall into oblivion, but exist on the edge of forever. If you love a story enough, it becomes real. When you love someone enough, they become a story. I felt sad after Furious 7, i truly felt grief for Vin Diesel, he lost his close friend. But i felt joy, i was given and will have forever, a little bit of what they lost. There, encased in celluloid, smiles a not-terribly talented actor, not a legend or a game-changing artist, but just this man who was loved by a lot of people.
I really love stories, but i only can miss people.
RIP Paul Walker.