‘Fail again. Fail better.’ Samuel Beckett’s phrase has succeeded in standing the test of time – but perhaps because it flops as an aphorism. Is a better failure, for instance, closer to or further from success? It’s unclear. This ambiguity gets my thoughts rolling in a way that a cut-and-dry statement never could.
When I saw that MUBI are streaming Southland Tales, as part of their ‘Perfect Failures’ series, I wanted to write a piece on how the film is proof that it’s alright to fail. After all, it still haunts me all these years later with the possibility that I might have misinterpreted its many lapses and flaws, that it might in fact be a work of genius.
Is a better failure, for instance, closer to or further from success?
Directed by Richard Kelly, the follow up to Donnie Darko – very important for me as a teenager in the early noughties – this film was destined to blow my little, pubescent mind. It nearly did. Kelly’s film has a lot to tell us about failure, but, as with our Beckett quote, it’s not as simple as it might first appear.
Southland Tales is set in a near-future during a Third World War (an attempt to fictionalise then-president George Bush’s War on Terror) and includes a generator of inexhaustible energy ‘Fluid Karma’ ripping holes in the space-time continuum and an adult film star creating a Reality TV show and so on. Dwayne Johnson’s Boxer Santaros is an action star with amnesia who teams up with Sarah Michelle Gellar’s psychic ex-porn star Krysta Now. Together they write a prophetic screenplay, ‘The Power’, about the coming apocalypse.