Vincent’s Failure

In the film Time Out (2001) the protagonist, Vincent experiences a major loss in his life, the loss of his job. The impact and result of this type of loss is defined by Lauren Berlant in After the Good Life, An Impasse when she writes that the result of this type of event is called an impasse. According to Berlant, “[a]n impasse is a holding station that doesn’t hold securely but opens out into anxiety, that dogpaddling around a space whose contours remain obscure” (199). In other words, an impasse is a state of being.  With Vincent, this occurs after the “forced loss” he experiences. Vincent’s impasse appears in seemingly illogical behaviors such as creating a double life, one life he lived at home with his family and a second life he lived while borrowing money from his father, scheming money from his friends and eventually selling counterfeit goods. This “dogpaddling around a space” is his way of not only dealing with his loss in the way his wife and children may have wanted him to, but finding an alternative of going back to the failed system, or life he was ousted out of. He’s pretending to engage without actually participating.

Regarding optimism, Berlant writes that Time Out “witness the blow to traditional props for optimism about live-building that had once sustained the aspirationally upwardly mobile, and pay attention to how different kinds of people catch up to their new situation” (192). We see this in Vincent and those in his circle. Everyone in Vincent’s life was a participant in his fantasy of upward mobility including his family and friends.  His friends, those who seemingly recklessly gave Vincent money to “invest” are living with their own financial challenges and long to “catch up”.

Though it may seem that according to Berlant, he should have “a recession grimace” (196) stamped on his face under the assumption he lived the “good-life” prior to his termination, Vincent’s grimace seems to only appear  when he is challenged by those who know his truth. The security guards, his oldest son, Jean-Michel, and Jaffrey knows the real Vincent. One may wonder if Vincent wants the so-called “good life” back especially when he severs tied with a long-time co-worker and friend, Jaffrey and he is not honest with his wife and children. The other possibly that he does want the good life back, but only on his terms and conditions, not the terms and conditions he once had.

Jean-Michel is another person that saw who Vincent really is. Vincent’s fantasy and method of obtaining upward mobility is obvious to Jean-Michel since Vincent’s game is very familiar to Jean-Michel and the hotel security guard. Jean-Michel’s method of optioning upward mobility is less than honorable but effective. As Berlant mentions, Time Out manages to show how “different kinds of people catch up to their new situation” (192).  Vincent’s failure to own or admit who he is is only visible to Jean-Michel because Jean-Michel is a version of Vincent; only Jean-Michel is more experienced and is not ashamed.

At the conclusion of Time Out a new managerial position practically falls into Vincent’s lap, and this is when the “permanent grimace” returns to his face. He doesn’t want to go back to the life he was dismissed from. His story ends as he goes back to the beginning. He experiences another impasse, but this time it is the second type of impasse Berlant defines. For Vincent, this impasse “is what happens when one finds oneself adrift amid normative intimate or material terms of reciprocity…coasting though life, as it were, until one discovers a loss of traction” (200). The double life he briefly lived is coming to an end and it’s no longer in his hands. He is returning to precarity. According to Berlant “percarity is a condition of dependency” (192).  For Vincent, this is his failure.

Failure as a Success and Other Blurred Lines

Judith Halberstam uses the idea of “queer” to illustrate ways of thinking that aren’t always the norm. To expand, Halberstram sees the idea “alternative political formations” as beneficial in their secondary objectives. The formations are radical ideas or procedures that protest the current state or format of an organization. Meaning if a minority group protests against an unruly government in any fashion, there’s a strong possibility that said protest will fail. However the failure in that specific moment has multiple objectives. One is that you can properly address your strategy—what worked and what didn’t work and where can we make changes to avoid similar problems in the future. Second and more importantly, it allows one to take a step back and analyze what they might view as a success. Is it actually success or is it framed in the idea that if you don’t reach a set goal then anything short of that is considered a failure. Halberstam identifies these as “social relations” (19) and that whatever is given in the framework of what is succeeding and what is failing should always be questioned.

In the bigger scheme of things, what Halberstam is really getting at is that words like “gender and sexuality are, after all, too often dropped from the most large scale accounts of alternative worlds.” (19). So when instances of either of these comes about and it doesn’t fit into the heteronormative world we live in, than they’re viewed as odd and unsuccessful and essentially built to fail. So a culture or group of people that come to inhabit the world that are completely normal will inherently succeed even if it doesn’t really seem like they’re succeeding at all because once again, it’s the norm. It’s the failure that a “queer” group of people experience that is necessary for them to succeed because the “queer group of people were meant to fail. It can similarly be viewed as a process and if the “queer” group or culture fails then it can be looked at as a success because failure is a part of the process that actually allows queer groups to succeed.

Yet this strikes me as odd. Failure is experienced by every single person at some point in time during their life and if it hasn’t than that is deeply disturbing. I’m not arguing against the idea of failure because I know it ‘builds character” and all that other stuff you’re told by parents, teachers and other adults in your youth. No I’m more curious as to why when calling failure a success when it shouldn’t be addressed as a failure at all. If it aids queer groups or cultures to fail at some point in their existence than why would that be considered failure at all. It makes me think on an even larger scale, posing ideas that begs the question: if failure can be looked at and viewed as a success and success actually isn’t always success but just a rung on the ladder towards a satisfactory life, then is it possible for both success and failure to be just societal creations meant to keep whatever group you’re apart motivated enough to keep progressing to the next stage of whatever challenge you’re up against? If so then what Halberstam has done is successfully blurred the lines between both success and failure designed to give whomever the great feeling of satisfaction or the empty feeling of defeat. (Words: 574)

One more key notion I feel Halberstam touches on is the distinction between types of failures. In this book, the authors objective is “addressing the dark heart of the negativity failure conjures, and I turn from the happy and productive failures explored in animation to darker territories of failure associated with futility, sterility, etc” (23). The exploration of the severity of failure and how it affects us seems appropriate as not every failure we experience can comparatively stack up side by side. My interest stems from the idea of failure being inscribed in us from a young age, where we are grooming our kids to understand failure and accept it as a given. Yet if failure carries this negative connotation are we perhaps merely reinforcing the idea that when non-normative groups fail, it’s ok to fail, but being anything else than normal is unacceptable? Here’s to hoping for some enlightenment on these incredibly dense ideas.