Friday, February 6, 2015

Stuck in a Metaphor: Ending The Trip

Steve Coogan's The Trip (2010, dir. Michael Winterbottom) started as 6 episodes of a television program on the BBC. Eventually, the episodes were turned into a film that received positive reviews upon release both in the U.K. and the U.S.

Coogan and Rob Brydon essentially play themselves in this film, albeit exaggerated and slightly distorted versions of themselves (another point ripe for postmodern study). Steve is set to travel through northern England on a culinary review trip for The Observer, but his girlfriend, Mischa, has cancelled due to an advancement in her own career and related trip to the U.S. She reminds Steve over the phone that they are "taking a break." Steve asks Rob, an old friend and rival, to join him instead. Throughout the film, the two compete with their impressions of other actors. Steve is visibly annoyed when people recognize Rob but not him, and the two banter and ridicule each other in an mean-spirited, passive-aggressive way.

They make a brief side visit to Steve's parents, and Rob looks up from the car to see Steve's true persona, just for a moment, as Steve tells his parents goodbye at the front door. They ask quickly about Steve's career, and he answers nonchalantly, almost dismissively. This clearly stands out to Rob, since his previous view of Steve has been a braggart and boaster. If Steve has kept this persona tucked away, what is his true character and personage like?

The final drive home to London finds the two having fun with each other, rather than competing. Now, the impressions build off of one another, rather than challenging each other.

Steve's journey, however, isn't revealed until after the two return home to London. Though, technically, The Trip's title refers to their culinary jaunt, ultimately, the title refers more to Steve's inner journey rather than the physical one. While on route, Steve is offered a top acting job on a series in the U.S., which would take him away from his teenaged son, since his son lives mostly with Steve's ex-wife. The move would, however, take Steve closer to Mischa-- not to mention launch his career to a higher level, which is something he desperately desires.

The tone throughout the film has been awkwardly passive-aggressive and humorous, but in the final scene, it drops down to pure melancholy. Rob returns to his loving wife and infant daughter, and they are shown around the dinner table, laughing, and with warm tones of yellow and brown throughout the rise-en-scene surrounding them. Steve is shown pacing through his sleek, modern apartment alone, with cooler blue and gray tones. He paces, stands, and paces some more. It is clear that inwardly, Steve is lonely and isolated on a deep level. He calls his agent and turns down the role, saying he needs to be near his son. But the film does not end with a shot of Steve with his son, as with Rob and his daughter, but with Steve completely alone. This scene reveals a deeper understanding of the mid-life crisis and isolation Steve experiences, and a second viewing of the film shows this more clearly, having viewed this final scene.

Steve's awkwardness no longer seems entirely passive-aggressive but rather simply misguided. Though Steve chides and often berates Rob, it is clear that he needs this friend more than he ever lets on. His spouse and girlfriend are both gone, and his son lives with his mother; Steve's prior relationships have ended or changed dramatically, and his career is in flux. His relationship with Rob, however, was established eleven years before and provides some consistency for Steve, hence his reasoning for inviting Rob on the trip. Steve's "trip" was not simply a drive through the north country but rather an extended metaphor for his career and life trajectory: mostly Steve behind the wheel of his car, making his own decisions,, picking up a friend here or there, dropping them off, shoving them to the side of his own life, with a pit stop for family on the road home. It is clear that Steve is still stuck in a metaphor, stuck mid-way to his destination.




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