There is something about a mystery that is just automatically cool. Even the most mundane of topics can be made more interesting with the introduction of a mystery. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it has something to do with it becoming more like a puzzle, or perhaps it taps into that most fundamental aspect of the psyche, the desire to do what cannot be done, the desire to know what cannot be known. A mystery is an act of rebellion, an act of defiance and rejection and so becomes all the more tempting. Or perhaps it is just basic human curiosity.
Whatever the cause, I no longer care for mysteries as I once did. They do not thrill me or interest me anywhere near as much. I am fatigued by such things and the desire to solve them no longer holds me in a thrilling grip. The reason why is not a mystery.
It is in large part due to the collective body of work created by J. J. Abrams, who has single-handedly managed to do the mystery what M. Night Shyamalan. did for the twist. He has made it mundane, has pedestrianised it. Now, it is expected just as much as answers the answers are not.
It all began with Lost, a mystery drama that ran for nine seasons about some people on an island. For years, people pondered what it all meant. The mystery swelled even when the producers publically admitted they had no idea what was going on and were making it up on the fly. The mystery had a hold of them. So when the final episode finally came round, people were understandably upset when the writers could not think of a better ending than “it was all a dream”. Really, nine seasons for that? If I had sat through every episode only to be told it didn’t really happen, I would have been pissed. Fortunately, after 20 minutes of the first episode I decided it wasn’t for me and never saw it again. But millions of other weren’t so lucky.
He then took this pseudo-mystery shtick to the big screen with Mission Impossible: 3 and as well as ramping up the stupid and the explosions, he also ramped up the emptiness of even the most empty of movies. What is MI: 3 about? Nothing. Literally nothing. Once again there is the creation of a “what is it?” mystery, and again there is no answer. And it was so successful they put him in charge of Mission Impossible: 4!
Then, continuing to trade on his reputation as a man of mystery, he made Cloverfield, which had a MASSIVE publicity campaign with the now symbolic image of the decapitated Statue of Liberty. What was it? What does it mean? God, the tension was racked up to unbearable levels. Then finally the moment came. We sat down to watch and it was a simple monster in New York story. True, it adopted a Blair Witch-style found camera technique, but it was basically Godzilla. And it wasn’t bad (though it wasn’t great), but the movie did not (and some might say could not) have ever met the expectations of the people who had waited with baited breath. But it was a fun thing to do, right? Well, in a word, no.
It personified popular culture and the hollowness that pervades practically everything. It has reached such a level, that anything with even the slightest pretence of not being Lowest Common Denominator material is viewed as some kind of intellectual achievement. It is vacuous and if it had ended there then that would have been fine, but no.
Then he moved back to the small screen in the same year with Fringe, the plot of which, according to IMDB can be summarised as follows:
“A television drama centred around a female FBI agent who is forced to work with an institutionalized scientist in order to rationalize a brewing storm of unexplained phenomena.” Yet more mystery nonsense.
By the time it got to Super-8 I had completely given up interest. Another J. J. Abrams film, another pseudo-mystery hype-fest and I just could not care less. Yet in the middle of all this he finally made a film which didn’t actually have any mystery in it and by god was it a mess! There were plot holes you could drive a Bird of Prey through! Pure idiocy. So of course he gets to do it again. Obviously, I’m taking about the Star Trek reboot.
And now I find myself watching TV shows or movies with mysteries at the centre and I just couldn’t care less. They don’t keep me up at night, I don’t get concerned that the answers might never be revealed. I just sit back, take a deep breath and wait for it to be over. After such relentless exposure and letdown after letdown it’s no mystery why mysteries mean nothing to me.