What’s your deepest desire? Would you trade your soul for it?
When Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show rolls into town at 3 am, its mysterious leader Mr. Dark will force the locals to answer. Two 13 year olds named Will and Jim learn that getting what you want has a cost when…Something Wicked This Way Comes.
What can this tale of darkness, danger, and despair show us about succeeding in life? Let’s take a walk through the carnival and see.
That’s right, it’s the satisfyingly dark movie adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. I watched it as a kid and loved it, partly because it didn’t pull any punches and partly Mr. Dark is the quintessential Modern Devil. He doesn’t wear red, or have horns, hooves, and a tail, or carry a pitchfork. No, our modern era has hit close to the truth when it portrays Satan and his lieutenants: handsome, suave, powerful, and most of all, appealing.
Ticket counter: Count the cost
Mr. Dark offers you the world with one hand while holding the bill behind his back. Everything and everyone has a price.
“Pay a man enough and he’ll walk barefoot into Hell.” – David Xanatos, Gargoyles
The bill in Something Wicked This Way Comes is higher than what we face in real life. The most we face in our world is psychological misery, legal action, and physical suffering when we fulfill our lusts. We can often feed our desires by legal, socially acceptable methods and not experience any repercussions…for a while.
In Something Wicked This Way Comes, the consequences are instantaneous and devastating. Example: The largest temptation for our protagonists is the carousel, and not just because they like wooden horses. Depending on what direction you ride it, it can either speed up or reverse aging. Ride it too far or too fast, and you realize there’s no failsafe.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the other little price: If you give in to the temptations of the carnival, you become part of it. Your soul now belongs to Mr. Dark. Ah, well, you weren’t using it anyway. Your face becomes a tattoo on Mr. Dark.
Carousel of dissatisfaction: Going in circles
The idea of a carnival that grants wishes is a takeoff on the old “run away and join the circus” idea. Anyone dissatisfied with their current life, particularly kids with more sense of adventure than common sense, considered running away and joining the circus. Why hanging out with people who don’t know you and who have no reason to help you would be better than your family, I don’t know. But that’s what dissatisfaction does: it warps your thinking so you believe anything is better than what you have. At the very least, it makes you jump at any chance of escape. Only afterward you realize you’ll be stuck doing actual work with mucking out the elephant stalls.
If you take Mr. Dark’s offer, you won’t be alone. Hundreds if not thousands of people succumbed to its siren song. Mr. Dark sets the bait, the carnival, and waits for people who are dissatisfied with life to take a bite. Because it offers them what they want, it has control over them. If a person is content, the carnival has no power over them, because it has nothing to offer them.
This is true in real life too: anything capable of granting your desire is capable of controlling you in proportion to the strength of your desire. In Buddhism, they say desire brings pain. Yes, it can, but pain isn’t bad if it helps you grow as a person. (That’s something Jim’s mother tried to teach him.) What’s bad is if that desire makes you sacrifice what matters in life and if it steals your joy. Control your desires and make them motivate you. Don’t let them and the things that can fulfill them control you.
Slingshot of despair: Take a shot at happiness
Will’s dad Mr. Halloway learns the desire = control lesson first hand. He was depressed because he was a 50-something janitor in a small town. By the end of the novel, he’s come to accept his place. He destroys the carnival by laughing at it and its futility because he’s become content with his life.
True happiness in life doesn’t come from achieving one’s dream, according to him. He says,
“Sometimes the man who looks happiest in town, with the biggest smile, is the one carrying the biggest load of sin.”
Happiness shouldn’t be the goal. Being good should be the goal.
“He’s had his fun and he’s guilty. And men do love sin, Will, oh how they love it, never doubt, in all shapes, sizes, colors, and smells.”
Being good is a difficult job, one that often causes people to be sad. There’s some truth in this, but only some. They don’t mention that happiness comes from the word happenstance, which means it is reliant on your circumstances. Real joy isn’t. That’s what comes from being good. It’s implied though.
Continuing his bright, optimistic outlook, he believes that empathy and compassion in humans began because,
“I suppose one night hundreds of thousands of years ago in a cave by a night fire when one of those shaggy men wakened to gaze over the banked coals at his woman, his children, and thought of their being cold, dead, gone forever. […] And for a little bit next morning, he treated them somewhat better, for he saw that they, like himself, had the seed of night in them.”
Consciousness of mortality, of impending death, makes people treat each other with empathy because they see they’re in the same boat. …Okay then.
I’m really thinking Mr. Halloway should’ve been called Mr. Dark, because he’s about as pessimistic and depressing as a German/Norwegian Midwesterner. Oh, wait, I guess he is one, eh?
Right, so that’s the good guy’s take. Want a Xanax or tub of chocolate-chip ice cream to console yourself yet?
Fun-house of villains: Don’t believe your eyes
Let’s get to the fun part: the antagonists and villains!
There are a number of them to choose from. There’s Mr. Cooger, Mr. Dark’s partner who rides the carousel to return himself to childhood. Why so small? All the better to tempt you with, my dear. He ends up riding forward on the carousel and the boys accidentally up the speed, aging him hundreds of years. Oops.
Then there’s the Witch, who Mr. Dark has sway over. He orders her to kill Mr. Halloway, but she fails when Halloway laughs at her just before he would’ve died. Then she dies when he shoots her with a wax bullet “marked with is smile,” a crescent. How thin skinned! Well, not really. Laughter is a weapon against evil, as it shows true happiness, true acceptance of life. We laugh because we see that something is out of place, but we don’t let it get us down.
Laughter helps us heal after a traumatic event. You know the saying, “We’ll laugh about this later”? It makes you want to punch whoever says it, but it is true. A lot of bad experiences make us laugh afterward. It’s not laughter because the situation is inherently funny; it’s more a show of relief and evidence that we’ve grown from the experience.
Evil wants people to be miserable. When a person genuinely laughs, it shows that they are not miserable. The situation has not consumed them; they see what’s beyond. Evil wants to bog people down with the troubles of the here and now. Then it wants to depress us by painting a dismal future devoid of hope. Laughing also puts us in a different state of mind, one where we can think clearly. The last thing an evil overlord wants is for people to think clearly and act on their thoughts.
“Not words, old man,” said Mr. Dark. “Not words in books or words you say but real thoughts, real actions, quick thought, quick action, win the day.”
Somehow Mr. Halloway, AKA Mr. Eeyore, the guy who thinks death is the only reason people act halfway decently toward each other, who says people who smile are probably guilty of a butt load of sin just because they seem happy, has decided that laughing and being happy are weapons against evil. No, really, Sherlock! That’s what we call character growth in a character arc, folks.
Ferris wheel of Darkness: Mr. Dark takes us higher
But enough with the little leaguers. Time for the heavy hitter Mr. Dark himself. While not a direct representation of Satan, he’s at least quite powerful in that…circle. We don’t know how he became leader of the carnival. Perhaps he was one of its victims who rose to power, or maybe he was a magic-worker whom the forces of evil recruited. There are a lot of different options. Are there any fan fics out there dealing with his origins? Probably not. Too bad.
In the book, he’s the Illustrated Man, who has tattoos of all the people who’ve…joined the carnival. He holds sway over people, sometimes by pictures of them that cause physical pain, sometimes by threatening to take something from them, sometimes by bribing them. He’s a master manipulator who can discern what your deepest desire is. With the boys, he offered Jim, who was the easiest target, a ride on the carousel to become an adult (don’t do it, kid! It’s a trap!) and become his partner in the carnival to replace Mr. Cooger.
One of the most striking features of Mr. Dark, especially in the movie, is his appearance. Wearing a top hat and a black suit that make his tall frame even more striking, he certainly turns heads on the street. Then there’s his charisma. He’s confident and classy. Looks + Charisma = instant leadership credibility. You want to trust him.
He can also make you feel important. This is a great tool to convert people to his side, because everyone loves to be recognized and even valued by a person in power.
His favorite method, though, is working step by step on people, building up to reach conversion. What I mean is that he’ll offer someone a “free gift.” This softens them up and makes them feel obligated to return the favor. This is the Law of Reciprocity. Then he’ll ask them to do little things like come with him to the carnival. This is a different strategy from the more accepted method of asking for a big favor, then asking for a smaller and hoping the person feels guilty enough about turning down the first that they’ll give in to the second. Both methods work, but to different levels on different people. Mr. Dark evidently knows how to choose the right options, considering how high his conversion rate is.
Basically this is a funnel approach in marketing: Give the customer something free, then ask them to buy a cheap object or sign up for a newsletter, then increase the price of the next products/services until at the end of the funnel you have the queen mother, big ticket item.
As with modern marketing techniques, M. Dark’s greatest success comes when he points out a customer’s problem/need and then presents the solution. The solution is always simple, too. In fact, you’d be a fool to turn down his offer! For a limited time only, get the fat loss secret the stars use! Make your skin look like a twenty year old’s with this strange fruit! Three easy steps to making a million dollars in a month! …He just needs you to send $10k to Nigeria to get you started.
A sucker’s born every minute, but everyone who exists has a need. He fills the need. Now, he might have to point out what that need is, but once he does, you’ll agree with him. Since the carnival is only in town for a few days, you better act now! The more time people have to think about the pros and cons of an action, the more likely they are to decide against it. Usually, anyway.
Now, Mr. Dark is so invested in the darkness of the carnival that he can’t stand love or affection. That’s how he meets his end: The Halloways basically hug him to death. Not exactly an impressive end, huh. I’m not a hug person either…
Exit: Don’t get your hand stamped
So ends our stroll through the carnival. Do you still have your soul? Take a look at yourself and your desires. Take a look at how people want to use them to control you. How often do you give in and let them roll you?
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.
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