11 July 2010
At first I was hesitant to put this on, since I've been going through The Wire for a while now, and after such a complex view of the drug trade I was fearing a more simplistic, stylized perspective would come off cheap and flashy, but the Pusher trilogy has such a good reputation I figured it was worth the risk. In fact, it doesn't come off as a glossy version of the kind of story The Wire stretches out over fifteen hours at all. Where The Wire is a sort of Threepenny Opera view of how both sides of the system work the same and are flawed in the same ways, Pusher sticks to one man, and is a story about desperation and greed, and how slippery the slope is from being in control to being totally out of control of your own life.
Frank really didn't do anything to wrong his dealer and friend, except perhaps he was sloppy out of greed in setting up a meeting. When backed into a corner he took the only way out he saw: dump the drugs in the lake and surrender. In Pusher we get to see a lot of what you can (or can't) do when backed into a corner. Mostly it's Frank, over and over again, still in the corner, but one scene that sticks with me is when Frank and his dealer's muscle (also a friend; names escape me) go to collect a debt owed to Frank from a weaselly whimpering junkie. Having no money and no means, the muscle says, hey no problem, here's a shotgun and a plastic bag, go rob your bank and bring us the money. This hard-as-nails you-do-what-you-have-to-this-isn't-our-problem approach to money collecting is intense: your choices are, cross another line or lose a kneecap. Backed into the corner, the junkie tries another approach: he turns the gun on the muscle threateningly. But this guy lacks the nerve, clearly, and the muscle pounces on him, beats him. He points out, even if he'd pulled the trigger, Frank would have shot him, and nobody would win, so buck up and go rob the bank, bring us our money. Frank isn't happy with how this is going down, how hard the junkie is being pushed (eh? eh?) by the muscle, but it's him or Frank, so he keeps his mouth shut. The junkie has no other options. Only, the junkie finds one: two barrels in the mouth and painting the walls with his brains. The message here is clear: you think you're desperate now? We can push you even further. What's your limit? We will find it. Where the "we" in question can be drugs, power, authority, or good old-fashioned fate.
The end, then, is beautiful, as Frank's options are reduced for the umpteenth time to zero, he's pissed off his dealer friends, beaten his cohort senseless, and betrayed his downtrodden semi-girlfriend for the last time. She takes his stash, his lifeline to getting his name and security back, and disappears into the night. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, no money to do it with, and nobody to help. Through a painful chain reaction of events starting from one simple choice, Frank has been thoroughly undone. He's a reactive protagonist for the most part (the end is preempted by him making one choice: he can either get out now or go back in for more, and his choice to walk away from his girlfriend and climb back into the ring is what leads to his drifting helplessness when she steals his cash and disappears) -- but that's the world Pusher sets up, and it never feels cheaply done. He's doing his best to stay out in front of the chaos and disaster, but like the police chase at the beginning, he's out of shape and he can only run for so long.