FilmFisher is currently running a series of essays on the television series Mad Men, one of the core themes of which is the complex relationship between fictions and realities. According to Jean-Luc Godard, “The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second,” but according to Michael Haneke, it is “twenty-four lies per second at the service of the truth.” For this month’s Undefended, FilmFisher’s writers were asked to list five favorite cinematic truths and lies.
Of the 92 episodes produced over the course of Mad Men’s seven seasons, it is nearly impossible to select a single favorite – but if I had to, there is a good chance I would select the fifth season’s “Signal 30.” Directed by series regular John Slattery and co-written by Frank Pierson, who wrote Cool Hand Luke and Dog Day Afternoon, the entire episode is an inspection of flawed ideals of masculinity, and the self-loathing felt by men who cannot measure up to them.
The beginning of Mad Men’s fourth season is a period in which Don is separated from the things he loves — his marriage, his home life and his hookups. Moreover, the agency he started may go under without Lucky Strike, its biggest client.
... and he doesn’t walk out. Instead he gets his foot run over by a lawn mower. “He’s lost the foot … He’ll never golf again,” they say. And thus Mad Men receives what is perhaps the most shocking moment in the whole series. Yet the rest of the episode is delightful and lighthearted – even after the foot mowing and blood splattering in the middle of the office. The tense parts come with the smaller things: office politics, Joan’s husband Greg not receiving chief residency, and Lane’s transfer to India. And this points to the way Mad Men reflects real life.
The second season finale of Mad Men takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and concerns the way people respond to the possibility of annihilation. The threat posed by nuclear war is both imminent and abstract; near enough that some are prompted to seriously consider their mortality, distant enough that some choose to simply numb themselves by seeking bodily pleasure. Though the term is often used to refer to the end of the world, “apocalypse” simply means “uncovering,” and while “Meditations In An Emergency” does not conclude with nuclear catastrophe, it finds characters prompted to contemplation and revelation of what might otherwise remain hidden.
The Carousel pitch from the first season finale of AMC’s Mad Men is perhaps the most famous scene in the entire series. It is probably the greatest pitch of the myriad pitches given throughout the series. It acts as a microcosm not only for the concept of the ad, but for the series as a whole, and even art in general. The lure of technology and the deeper, delicate pull of nostalgia are stand ins for a truth that is the same now as it was fifty years ago, and probably since man was created.