The lie I've been living all this time (and that creepy driver from Blood Simple)
by, 3rd June 2011 at 06:07 PM (394 Views)
I discovered this week that, for the past several years, I have been abusing the phrase "the exception that proves the rule".
It doesn't mean what I thought it meant. It also doesn't mean what my housemate informed me it meant when she disagreed with my original interpretation. Turns out we were both hideously wrong.
Given the context in which I'd first heard this (curiously contradictory) expression, I took it to mean a rare deviation from the established norm which merely served to highlight how said occurrences were. She insisted that "proves" actually meant "tests", and that the phrase refers to a scenario where such a deviation would serve to highlight the importance of the rule in the first place. I finally got round to doing my research on the phrase a couple of days ago, and discovered what it actually refers to is a scenario wherein you are able to determine from a given exception what the standard norm should be (and is derived from the Latin phraseexceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis, or "the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted"). Hope that clears that up for you.
On a (sort of) similar note, I was watching Blood Simple this weekend, and suddenly realised that the point in the film which I had always previously interpretted as the most eerie and enigmatic is actually nothing of the sort. To the contrary, it appears to have a pretty danged banal explanation. I speak of course of the scene where Ray is driving back down the highway in the early hours of the morning, having just disposed of Marty's (still living) body. He passes another car, the driver of which grins and makes an unnerving gesture at him. Like so:
I'll never forget the chills which ran down my spine the first time I saw this. There was something about this guy which seemed awfully strange and out of place, an unease only heightened by the intensity of the scene which had preceded it. We had no explanation as to who this character was, what he was up to, and why he had such an interest in Ray. It's something I thought long and hard about as the credits rolled, and which continued to haunt me long after whenever I looked back and reflected upon the film. I was certain there was some hidden significance to this moment, but what exactly? I couldn't see any obvious (or indeed subtle) precursors to this moment elsewhere in the movie, and a series of google searches left me none the wiser.
Upon watching this scene more attentively, it transpires that the mysterious driver has merely been signalling to Marty to let him know that his headlights were still on. It takes Ray a little while to cotton on to this, due to the highly agitated state the previous night's round of bodily disposal has left him it, but he twigs eventually and complies. The driver grins and makes that gesture because Ray has finally understood. Actually, it's blatantly obvious that that's what's happening. I don't know why I've never picked up on this before. So much for all my pain-staking analytical work.
Still, there is something about this guy which remains, in my view, incredibly sinister. Though you could interpret his finger pointing, on one level, as a perfectly genial gesture to indicate a mutual understanding, given the extent of Ray's crime, and the unsettling knowingness in the driver's smile, it could just as easily be read as an accusational one. Perhaps it's supposed to signal Ray's entry into the dark side, a line he most certainly crossed when he buried Marty alive.
(Oh, for anyone who's actually bored enough to care, the second entry to my series on life in the 80s is in the works as we speak. I hope to have it up really soon.)
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