Steve McQueen once starred in “Papillon” as a criminal sentenced to penal servitude on Devil’s Island. His character endured years of brutal treatment and solitary confinement because he was forever trying to escape. At the end of the movie, McQueen and co-convict Dustin Hoffman are old and have earned a certain freedom of movement in their island home. In fact, the daylight scenes make it look like a paradise. Hoffman’s character has become acclimated, but McQueen, determined to be free, jumps off a cliff into the ocean to ride a coconut raft to the mainland.
The intention is to show man’s unquenchable thirst for freedom, but the beauty of the setting makes you think of man’s indomitable refusal to recognize when he’s well off. You look at that island, that sea, that sky, and you wonder where in the world Papillon thinks he’s going to have it better. It undercuts the inspirational ending.
When I walk downtown on a day like Sunday and see the horizon in Nature’s own high definition, I realize again what a horse’s ass I am to take my surroundings for granted as if I’ll be in this town forever.
As I walked, I said — with some ferocity — “APPRECIATE this, fool!”
Passers-by assumed I was talking to Booker. I got some dirty looks. It cost me a few awkward moments; the police are cracking down on animal abuse and I imagined myself over at the station, trying to explain that I was only abusing myself.
Because I should appreciate Laguna. We all should; we won’t be here forever, or even close. For instance, I may be working in Illinois next winter. Temporary job. New challenge. It was all my idea, I put it together. My own coconut raft. By next February I expect to appreciate Laguna more than ever.
SHERWOOD KIRALY is a Laguna Beach resident. He has written four novels, three of which were critically acclaimed. His novel, “Diminished Capacity,” is now available in bookstores, and the film version will soon be out on DVD.