Move over High Noon, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Magnificent Seven, and A Fistful of Dollars, because the Western canon is about to get dunked on.
On an otherwise dreary Tuesday night in January, the Houston Rockets decided to unleash upon an unsuspecting world 14 seconds of unbridled joy, confusion, triumph, and hope.
Why? Why does any master of the genre create? Would you ask renowned émigrés of Expressionism, dubbed the “Master of Darkness” by the British Film Institute, Fritz Lang, why he felt the need to make Metropolis? Or metaphysical genius, Andre Tarkovsky, why he woke up one day and went, “Huh, a movie about ennui, regret, and space, I’m gonna do it”? Absolutely not, no you wouldn’t.
Well actually the Rockets did it because it was Rodeo Night, but it’s a small digression nonetheless.
The film — let’s give it the respect of calling it what it is — opens by physically having two humble, wooden barn doors slide open, thereby inviting us into the world it is going to showcase. A subtle touch with just the right sound mixing so as not to draw our attention, now piqued, away from the figure coming toward us. What hero is this? Will we come to understand his psyche, share in his dreams? And why is he twisting his hand around like that?
“Heyyyy Rockets fans!” greets small forward, Armoni Brooks, shattering the fourth wall. Okay, we think, we can play this part, “Rockets fans.” After all, he has greeted us with such familiarity.
“It’s time for the mechanical bull cam!” Brooks says. For a second, mesmerized by the way his twirling hand has synced up with the rhythm of his words, we have zero understanding of what is going on. But then like a siren song out of the darkness, a cow makes a long, rallying moo. It’s around this point that we also recognize the backdrop as a cow’s hide — a spotty, galactic universe. Is it moving? Are we ever not in this life?
The scene cuts suddenly to a new character. His arm is up, like Armoni’s was, but his hand is out of the frame at first so we only see a bicep mid-flex as he rocks imperceptibly side to side.
“Time cowboy up,” Christian Wood calmly tells us. We want to. Whatever it means, we want to. His arm has come back from the void out of frame and he’s spinning it, too. “And hold on tight,” he adds. Your hand, perhaps on your phone, or resting on a desk, tenses. How do you hold on tight to this mystery, unfurling?
Then, an etherial flash. Bright, bracing. The sense of dawn, breaking resplendent and then Eric Gordon standing alone, smiling, wordless, looping his arm around and around in a way that suggests he might do this forever. The humble vest he wears is the same as the others, but this time, it’s been clasped confidently up — a signal, perhaps, to say give no heed to the ferocious CGI bull blotting out his torso, this man is in complete control. Will he be as victorious as Theseus, who slew the Minotaur, once was?
We have no idea because it abruptly cuts again to Brooks now atop the same beast.
In a brief cut almost too overwhelming, we get the lens flare and the lowing cow simultaneously. The stimulus is too great and your pulse ratchets up until, like a hero materializing over some distant horizon, it’s Gordon again. He takes a breath and you do too.
“Lllllllet’s ride!” His hand is spinning faster now, there is no imagining it. The smile on his face the purest distillation of joy.
Suddenly, the humble barn doors slam, and it’s a good thing too. You had the sense that you would follow Gordon to the ends of the earth just then, if he asked. Three steely, cartoon embossed words slam down on the doors, on the world now firmly closed to us: MECHANICAL BULL CAM. Fin.