Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Four of the five 2016 animated short films nominated for Academy Awards are very short—under 10 minutes each. The exception is Pear Cider and Cigarettes, which is 35 minutes long.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes is the story of Techno Stypes, as told by the narrator, a friend of his. I didn’t realize going in, but evidently it is a true story (or let’s say, as in all such cases with movies, based on a true story, since there’s a convention that films are allowed to deviate from the truth in ways that wouldn’t be acceptable in other media). You can infer this from the fact that Stypes’s parents are thanked in the credits, but I confirmed it online later to be sure. (The narration is from the perspective of filmmaker Rob Valley—Valley is the friend in question of Stypes—though I believe it’s not actually his voice.)

Stypes is one of those larger-than-life, charismatic, daredevil types permanently ensconced in the fast lane. The friendship of Stypes and the narrator begins in childhood, where of all their peers Stypes is the one who is first and heaviest into smoking, drinking, drugs, sex, motorcycles, fast cars, lawbreaking, and all the rest.

Given his nature as a classic “doesn’t play by the rules” guy, it’s to be expected that he gets all the women he can handle, and that a large number of people, like the narrator, are fascinated by him.

Seeing him bungee-jumping off cliffs and such makes him seem indestructible, like the Robert Duvall character in Apocalypse Now (“He was one of those guys that had that weird light around him. You just knew he wasn’t gonna get so much as a scratch here”).

Stypes and the narrator drift apart for a while, in part because Stypes sometimes runs with more of a criminal crowd than the narrator wants to be associated with. He keeps up with Stypes’s life, though, which includes major injuries and rehab from car and motorcycle mishaps.

Then he is contacted by Stypes’s parents and asked to see if he can bring their son back from China alive. What is he doing in China? Well, by now the hard-drinking Stypes’s liver has given out, he has gotten horribly ill, and he is not going to be able to get a liver transplant in the United States for many years if ever (and there’s no way he’ll live for many years without it), so he has gone to China because he has been told that for the right price paid under the table there is a way to get whatever medical treatment one needs there, including a transplant.

So the narrator travels to China, where his job is basically to babysit Stypes through his treatment—a big part of which is keeping him from drinking—and then to come home with him. He is not fully successful at the keeping him from drinking part, as Stypes insists on partying at every opportunity, in spite of the fact that doing so only puts him in greater agony. Stypes by now has been reduced to an utterly pitiful figure.

So the great Stypes is not so indestructible after all. And indeed it’s always an illusion that such people are. If someone lives that kind of reckless, death-defying lifestyle, where they routinely engage in behavior—e.g., getting stoned and driving 100+ miles per hour, say—that has a 5% or 10% or whatever chance of killing them or messing them up so badly they’ll wish they were dead, they’ll probably be fine for a while. Many such people will be able to do things that dangerously stupid once, twice, five times, even ten times without suffering any irreversibly bad consequences. A few will make it to twenty times in a row, and a very few to fifty times in a row. It’s understandable that people will marvel at the few who dodge catastrophe the longest, but in reality there’s nothing magical about them; it’s all blind, dumb luck.

Sooner or later these consistently risky life choices catch up with those who insist on living in the fast lane. They caught up with Stypes sooner than some and later than others.

So in the end is there anything about him that makes Stypes worthy of being the subject of a film? Oh, I don’t know. I’d say yes in some ways and no in some ways.

I think the mere fact that he is fascinating to Valley and has made such a powerful impression on him may be reason enough for such a film. I’d encourage artists to be self-indulgent in that sense. Follow your passions, focus on your fascinations and obsessions, rather than what your audience or critics or whomever already are most interested in.

But in a more objective sense is Stypes really any kind of a big deal, or for that matter someone whose life can teach us anything? Probably not. The “larger than life” thing is mostly illusory. He’s really not particularly smart, strong, self-directed, etc. He’s an adrenaline junkie who’s a slave to his addictions, and like I say, by the end really quite pitiful.

I mean, certainly there are people who take bigger risks than most, and who perhaps die younger than most as a result, of whom you could say that by being willing to “go for the gusto” they packed more life into their years on Earth than the typical person does who lives two or three times as long, and in that sense at least there may be something admirable about them. But I think that only applies to Stypes to a small degree.

Because really what did his lack of inhibitions, his rebel nature, his willingness to put himself at risk lead to? It’s not like he was an astronaut or even an Evel Knievel entertaining millions of people around the world for years with his skills. He was a guy who chain smoked, spent all his time drunk or stoned, committed crimes, and drove super fast putting himself and others at risk. He was more of an immature ass than a hero.

I can empathize with Techno Stypes to a modest degree and I find him interesting to a modest degree (thanks to Valley’s skills as a filmmaker), but I’d say he’s more of a loser than not.

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