#2. People Like Winners
Part of the game show within The Running Man involves audience members betting on which stalker will get the next kill. And when Ben Richards obliterates the stalkers sent after him, the first few audience members walk away with nothing more than salty tears and The Running Man Home Game.
Also an actual thing. This is a rad movie.
Eventually, after Schwarzenegger has delivered a half-dozen increasingly belabored one-liners, a sweet little old lady is brought onstage and asked to place a bet. After thinking about this for a few seconds, she picks Richards to get the next kill. "That boy's one mean motherfucker," she explains, not inaccurately.
Keep in mind that at this point, she thinks Ben Richards is a mass murderer, and she has actually just watched him kill two men and then joked about it. She's picking him purely because he's really good at murdering, and if she can profit a little bit by the murder of another stalker (from her perspective, an "innocent" man), well shit. Why not?
For all the talk we have about rooting for the underdog, the bandwagon effect is probably an even more powerful phenomenon. Once someone starts winning, it becomes more acceptable to support him, which often only causes him to win harder. This is a big deal in politics; Bill Clinton is said to have benefited from this during the 1992 election, shortly after he murdered a man with a chainsaw to the ravenous approval of a crowd.
Success begets success; it's one of the cruelest lessons that losers have to learn, as my eighth or ninth viewing of The Running Man while missing work dramatically showed me.
#1. There's No Such Thing as a Happy Ending
When the film finally, sadly, comes to an end, Ben Richards straps Killian into a rocket and fires him through a wall, because this is exactly that kind of movie.
"Well that hit the spot." -I seriously love this movie so much.
Richards then takes his love interest in his arms and gives her a big kiss before some inspirational guitar-driven rock plays him off the stage. The world is saved. Nice!
At which point everyone watching the movie stands up and screams, "Wait, what? What about that dystopia? Isn't he still a wanted criminal? How does killing evil Pat Sajak solve anything?"
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Well. Eviler Pat Sajak.
Obviously it doesn't. There are still starving people out there, underneath the guns of thousands of police officers. Richards is still a wanted criminal who will probably be shot in the spine within minutes of the credits rolling. Yes, a very popular television show has just been torn down, and the country's population might be a little upset at the fraud perpetrated against them. Would that be enough to make them rise up and throw off their oppressors? That seems pretty iffy. And that would, at minimum, lead to a bloody revolution. This is the best case scenario we're talking about here, and a river of blood in the streets isn't quite the image this inspirational guitar-driven rock seems to be trying to evoke. Seriously, listen to it; it's like something Rocky should be improving himself to.
The obvious falseness of this "happy ending" is the final lesson The Running Man offers, and it was, to my fever-addled brain at least, totally mind-blowing. In the same way that the game show within the movie featured "happy endings" for its previous contestants (probably not orgasms ... probably), the movie has given us a happy ending that is also completely and obviously contrived. Which means that we're not supposed to buy this ending. There are no happy endings. Really, no endings at all. There's always an epilogue, which is itself really just the prologue of another story.
The lesson is clear. If you want a happy ending, you can't ever stop. You can't ever stop working for it. Your happy ending will require constant, continuous effort, and dammit, did I just end another column by appealing for perpetual masturbation?
I swear this isn't what I do on my sick days.