If there’s one thing that’s been a constant theme for big-budget Hollywood films in the last decade, it’s that it seems like the industry is running desperately low on new material. For every Inception there seems to be about a hundred sequels and reboots. For every scene you watch in a darkened movie theater that makes you gasp at its originality and spirit, there are a few dozen that are so predictable and trite that you feel nothing.
If we are actually running out of ideas, then one solution may be to look way, way back into the past. Classic literary works have had their day in the sun – adaptations of The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet, and The Lord Of The Rings are proof enough of that. But what if you go back even further? What if you went back to when humanity first started telling stories and then writing them down?
It might seem like Gilgamesh is an old, old story that most of us only vaguely recall from a college class that was tragically scheduled for 9 AM on Monday and thus, slept through, and that because of its age, it’s not so interesting or relevant, but when you sit down to actually read it, you’ll find the truth is the opposite. Not only that, but it would make a hell of a blockbuster.
The Epic of Gilgamesh has the potential to be the best Guy Movie since Scarface
Once you get past the fact that it’s really, really, really old and the language is archaic, the story of Gilgamesh is one of the most wonderfully debauched “guy movies” out there. Its somewhat poignant theme – a man on a quest for immortality who ultimately learns that maybe living forever isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – is wrapped up in a pretty sweet taco of beer guzzling, manly comradery, fighting dangerous animals for absolutely no reason, and heaps and heaps of gratuitous sex and violence.
Why would The Epic of Gilgamesh be an awesome movie? Let me count the ways.
Gilgamesh himself is a great character. He’s ruggedly handsome, he’s 2/3 god and 1/3 human, and he’s a king. He’s also not without flaws or narrative problems: he’s bored. He spends his time bedding brides before their weddings, and naturally, his people aren’t too pleased with this. He’s basically Don Draper if Don Draper lived 5,000 years ago and was a king.
So what do his people do? Well, they beg the gods to give their adventure-happy, bored king something to do.
And the gods respond by creating Enkidu (pronounced “Inky-do”, which is just one of the most fantastic names around). Thus, we come to reason number 2:
A manly friendship
Enkidu is a wild man who lives in the forest with a bunch of animals. After a harlot convinces him to become civilized by having sex with him for a week (that would be another key scene in this blockbuster), she introduces him to Gilgamesh, and the two manly men beat each other to a bloody pulp in the streets before becoming lifelong, inseparable best friends. How cool is that?
The Gilgamesh / Enkidu friendship is one for the ages – literally. They decide, for the hell of it, to go cut down giant trees and fight ancient monsters because it’s awesome. Not because the monsters are threatening the world, not because they need the tree’s sap for a magical potion to heal a princess, not because they’re on a quest for redemption or nobility. It’s just for the hell of it. They’re adventure junkies.
Every good movie needs conflict, and after our modern-day Han Solo and Chewbacca finish becoming fast friends, what’s left to do? Well, Gilgamesh manages to piss off the goddess Ishtar by refusing to sleep with her (another potentially amazing scene), noting quite rightly that her lovers tend to end up suffering unfortunate fates. Scored, the goddess decides to unleash the Bull of Heaven on Gilgamesh’s city.
See how nicely this lines up? Act 1 of a great movie sets up the key players – Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and resolves their relationship with each other. You’d have some sweet action scenes of them fighting each other, and then teaming up to fight a bunch of monsters. Then, Act 2, you’d introduce Ishtar and see Our Heroes united against a common foe. The Bull of Heaven would be a CGI-spectacular; a huge, epic construction that only a post-Avatar industry could conjure up.
And then, a great, epic Act 3. The gods, angered at the death of the Bull of Heaven (because, of course, our heroes are triumphant), strike down Enkidu. Gilgamesh’s new and best friend, his heterosexual life partner, is taken from him. It all comes around full circle – Enkidu’s death only intensifies Gilgamesh’s fear of death and hatred of his own mortality (the cause of his reckless adventuring and ennui alluded to at the beginning of Act 1 – symmetry!)
There’s only one thing to do. Go to the ends of the earth and find the secret to eternal life.
In a series of events far crazier than anything that happened in The Fountain, Gilgamesh braves Scorpion Men who guard the tunnel that the sun uses t0 reach the other side of the earth every night, stays at an inn with an immortal survival of the Great Flood, tries to stay awake for seven days, finds an Immortality Flower and then loses it when a snake eats it after he stops to bathe… the upshot is, Gilgamesh comes to terms with his own mortality.
If the movie is able to capture the poignancy of recognizing and accepting one’s mortality, the joy of a true buddy-buddy manly friendship, the awesomeness of fighting giant bulls, and the sexiness of week-long harlot encounters, it’ll be wildly successful.
Get it done, Hollywood. If nothing else, it should at least be better than the romance novels that have borrowed from the story…