For the second time I can remember, I saw a movie over the weekend where one of the lead characters was killed while riding their bicycle. Spoiler alert – if you don’t want to know what happened in these films, don’t read beyond this point.
The first instance was when Meg Ryan’s character died in City of Angels. That was terribly sad, but fortunately not gruesome. It also did not project the feeling that cycling could be overtly dangerous, as she was not paying attention to what was taking place ahead when a logging truck pulled out in front of her as she was coasting carefree down a hill (see photo above). The accident was also filmed as a slow motion, pseudo-dream sequence while the actual impact was left to one’s imagination. Meg’s character was not wearing a helmet.
Sunday, in the movie One Day, Ann Hathaway’s character, Emma, is riding her bike along her daily commute route home from work in London, England when she is suddenly obliterated by a passing truck. It is quite shocking and disturbing to see and left all three of us who were watching the movie totally shattered. Because it took place in London, the character was not wearing a helmet. It appears she was following safety protocol as just before the accident she clearly signaled a left turn down an alley. However, from the distant shot down the length of the alley used by the Director, it was unclear whether she looked both ways upon exiting the alley, but given what happened, she must not have done so. That in itself is an important safety reminded to all cyclists.
After the movie concluded, I spent the evening wrestling with the possible repercussions that such images might have on young/future bicyclists or those riders who are more shy of traffic. I am an avid bike commuter and this scene from One Day left me quite upset. The scene was not bloody and gory, but still very disturbing. One cannot help but think that viewing such scenes must dampen the spirits of all riders, but particularly those less accustomed to pedaling amid and/or near motor vehicles. Even the near miss that Julie Roberts experiences in Eat, Pray, Love creates palpable tension for the viewer.
I worry about how bicycling scenes are interpreted/portrayed in more recent movies because they always seem to be linked with an impending tragedy. All three accident examples listed above also involve women characters in romantic movies. Why is that? Is it just random coincidence or a way to ruin the movie for the viewer? I will leave any theories on those questions for the reader of this blog to contemplate, but it does seem odd.
Gone are the good old days where cinematic bicycling was light-hearted, magical, and fun. Remember the scene from E.T. where the kids take E.T. by bike to escape the government agents and begin flying into the air; or when Raindrops Keep Failing on Our Heads was playing as a backdrop to Paul Newman and Katharine Ross riding a newfangled bicycle in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid; or who can forget the inspiration derived from the Oscar-nominated film Breaking Away.
Granted, movies often reflect real life and cycling tragedies certainly happen on a near-daily basis. But, we already have solemn events like the Ride of Silence or the placement of white ghost bikes along roadways where riders have died to remind us of the inherent dangers. Is it necessary to do so in such a horrific manner on the big screen too? Some will say, yes, because it is art and you cannot sensor art. Likewise, others will say it might help all bicyclists to be less cavalier while riding and encourage drivers to be more cautious, as well.
At the same time, is it possible that the viewing public could become desensitized by these images if they are repeated too often. This seems to be the findings from some studies conducted on the impact(s) of playing violent video games. If desensitizing ourselves to the pain and heartbreak associated with tragic bicycling deaths is indeed the case and apathy begins to replace empathy, then we as a society are failing miserably to instill in each other the value of each and every human life. That, my friends, would be a very sad legacy.