Film Don’t Lie: The Pacers, The Bulls, And “Deep Impact”

 

I always thought the “hope survives” theme in both Deep Impact (and its more successful brother Armageddon) was a bunch of crap. Do you realize how many people die in those flicks? As George Carlin once said regarding the leading cause of death throughout the history of the universe: “MILLIONS OF DEAD MOTHER!@%$ERS!” More people die in the last hour minutes of “Deep Impact” than any movie not based on outright apocalypse. Only zombie flicks kill more human beings.  “Hope survives.” Get out of here with that. Just because Frodo winds up with the girl looking down on what is not a peaceful sea of tranquility residing over the Appalachians but is in fact a gigantic cesspool of dead humans, debris, wildlife, and industrial waste, does not mean that “hope survives.” In reality, the odds of continued human existence in the wake of the impact are pretty low.

So while the popular narrative will be that the Pacers somehow proved something, showed that they’re on the right track and that there’s this continual move towards relevance, in actuality, that’s not how this works in most cases. The Hawks showed they had some life versus the Celtics two years ago, and despite being a perennial playoff team, they are looked at with more disgust than most bottom feeders. There’s a special level of dismissive contempt held for the playoff fringe dwellers. Sure, the Bulls pushed the Celtics two years ago, but there could not be more difference between the two. For starters, the Bulls pushed the Celtics to seven games (without Kevin Garnett, yes, we’re all aware, Celtics fans. Your caveat is duly noted.).  And the Bulls used that series as momentum two years later to revamp their team with free agency, which Indiana will not be able to do, due to the market realities of the NBA.  There is no Carlos-Boozer-Kyle-Korver-Ronnie-Brewer-Kurt-Thomas-Tom-Thibodeau revolution coming for the Pacers. This it. They have to hope for a miracle, that Hibbert develops into an All-Star caliber center, Collison hits the next level, and Granger even becomes more than what he is, a passable combo forward with inconsistently great scoring ability.

Which is pretty much the same as hoping a group of astronauts can deposit a nuclear weapon inside an asteroid hurtling towards the Earth. It’s also equal to what their chances were at beating the Chicago Bulls in a seven-game series.

Deep Impact‘s real themes are about death. It’s got very little to do with survival or hope. The impact is just a big, catastrophic event that is unstoppable and beyond real understanding (If you’re big on literal comparisons, that would be the young Bulls point guard, hallowed be thy name). The real conflict in Deep Impact is between two different lines of approach to death. There’s the frantic scramble for survival embodied by the Biedermans and Leelee Sobieski’s family, and then there’s the calm, collected resignation of Tea Leoni and her father, which, despite it being your usual unnecessary human interest drama set in the literal backdrop of  a 500-foot high tidal wave, actually does ring through with some sincerity. There’s a contrast best represented  by Leoni’s decision to push the mother and her child onto the helicopter despite winning the straw draw (a scene in which, when she grabs the little girl and heads for the roof, I was afraid she had stolen the kid and left the mother to drown, which would have been compelling, but also a really crappy thing to do). It’s a pretty rare thing when a film actually shows an acceptance of death, but it’s cross-lit by the heroism of saving innocent people.

The Pacers knew they were dead. There’s just no way of getting around it. There’s “We did everything right and we almost won that game!” and then there’s “We did everything right and Derrick Rose still landed and wiped out half of our population.” You almost have to think that freed them, though. The Pacers collapsed down the stretch, but it never felt like a choke job except for the near-collapse of Game 4, the only game they actually won. Instead, it felt like the Pacers played well, the Bulls played badly for most of the game, then the Bulls just played better to close. Even in defeat there was something proud about the Pacers, and instead of dismissing them, most in the media, blogs, and fans chose to give the Pacers credit. They were, after all, the 8th seed, supposed to be annihilated by the awesome force of the Bulls. Instead they fought through, likely knowing they were not going to survive.

It’s actually a lot like what the Bhagavad Gita talks about.

The bodily experience has no affect on the eternal soul thus it is spoken of as it is not born nor does it die.

via Bhagavad-Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 20.

That’s in part what makes Deep Impact so surprising. It is, in a lot of ways, a spiritual movie without any overbearing Western philosophical overtones. In much the same way, outside of overdrawn fascination with making even Derrick Rose’s bad games into divinity, the series wasn’t written out as “plucky team can’t win because they suck.” Had the Bulls held the lead for the majority of the series, it would have been written that way, but because the Pacers held leads and then relinquished them — not to a series of terrible decisions but because the Bulls defense is a torture chamber when activated and Rose is the rare accurate analogy of “Hell on Wheels,”  — everyone wins. In Deep Impact, the asteroid/meteor actually obliterates a large part of the world (once again, terrible things happen to Africa, BUT AT LEAST THE WAL-MART IN JOPLIN IS OKAY!), but everyone rebuilds, the hero and the girl survive, thanks to a heroic sacrifice by Robert Duvall, the national security advisor from the later seasons of West Wing and a blinded guy from E.R. That will be the feeling in Indiana, where it’ll seem like this team is just a few pieces away from really going somewhere. But guess what?

In Deep Impact, lots and lots of people still died in a global catastrophe, and the Pacers are still without a legitimate star. It’s fun to watch, but there’s not a real lesson to the tale.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.