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A Few Blown Fuses Before the Night is Over

Alan Ball and the Circuit of Abandon

By Jacob Clifton

“Don’t think of it as a clog. Think of it as some sort of magical circuit board, a motherboard, filled with desire, that travels all over the world. That touches you, that touches me. That connects everybody. You just have to find the right connection, the right circuitry. Look at all these people out there: They’re trying to find the right connection. And I personally expect a few blown fuses before the night is over. And maybe one of them will be yours.”—Shortbus (2006)

In every fairytale–which is to say, every tale–the Hero meets a Guide, someone wiser and often older, somebody touched by magic, somebody who knows the Thing and has been sent by the Powers That Be to teach him or her the Thing. Sometimes it’s a wizard, like Gandalf or Dumbledore. Sometimes it’s Doctor Who. Often, these days, it’s a psychologist–Jennifer Melfi, Robin Williams–who leads us into the forest of ourselves and out again. In the heterosexual coming-of-age tales we’re so fond of, it’s usually an older and more confident guy who knows how to fix cars, but occasionally–like Clementine in Eternal Sunshine, or the mysterious Bacall and Novak femmes de noir–it’s a wonderful woman who opens new doors in us. In Alan Ball’s fictional worlds, it’s invariably a drug dealer.

American Beauty’s Lester Burnham has only taken a few steps off the well-lit path before he meets young pot dealer Ricky Fitts, and falls in love with Ricky’s consequence-free approach to life. Nate Fisher’s accidental ingestion of a tab of E in Six Feet Under leads him  …

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