I wrote too soon.
About a month ago, I posted some random thoughts on stories whose endings can serve as the beginning of another story, a story that seems as deserving of being told as the story that’s just been told (and the perils of when this new promised story sounds more promising than the story that was!).
Well, not only does the new movie The African Desperate walk this talk, it uses the sentiment as a fundamental wrinkle in the story’s conclusion, recontextualizing our conception of where the movie’s events fit in the main character’s overall life.
Stories like The African Desperate‘s, about temporally-finite formative experiences, tend to emphasize their trajectory-altering dimensions. As much as the depicted incidents technically constitute a break from the characters’ “real” lives, their impact will presumably upend the arcs of those lives; why else would such episodes be worth our attention as the subject of the piece? Under this premise, more life happens in less time.
The African Desperate reduces these temporally-encapsulated parameters even further: it chronicles the final 24 hours the lead character spends at a grad school program, one day that’s supposed to represent her years on campus.
What’re her/our takeaways?
Well, most literally, it took her away from family drama, a reprieve from those ongoing narratives of tumult.
And that’s the undercurrent of these “getaway” stories that art often elides: life goes on outside of these confined sojourns, and as much as the sojourns can reshape who we re-emerge as, re-emerge we do, back into narratives that started long before the beginning of this particular story, and will continue into the foreseeable future.
The end of The African Desperate’s getaway story isn’t the true beginning of her next story; it’s a restarting of a much longer, larger story: the story/stories of her life.
As she lugs her luggage — containing the objects that comprised her troubled/troubling stay; it’s figurative and literal baggage — from the school back home, even older baggage of a different variety rings her up: it’s her mother, with the dish on all the familial chaos she’s returning to.
This phone conversation is the mom’s first appearance in the story.
And then the movie abruptly ends, smack dab in the middle of the central character’s transit.
Because that’s how these getaway stories roll, whether or not we like to admit it: we escape our lives, we live new(ish) lives that feel like everything, but then we revert back to what was.
New baggage: meet old baggage.