Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Hangover’s Game of Chicken

'The Hangover' (2009)Well behind the crowd, Vera Valmore and I finally got around to watching The Hangover this week. Kind of surprising we hadn’t caught it yet, given how we both generally like these over-the-top kinds of comedies. Indeed, a lot of time when we make it to the theater it is to kick back and enjoy something like The Hangover rather than to be challenged too greatly by more intellectually-demanding fare.

That said, The Hangover is a fairly clever film, particularly in its unusual plotting whereby the story moves ahead yet also looks back pretty much throughout. As those of you who’ve seen it know -- and even those who haven’t probably do, too -- the main characters’ bachelor party turns into a night of mayhem that none can remember afterwards, and so the final two-thirds of film involves them trying to piece together what happened during those hours they all blacked out.

Lots of grins throughout, and the Las Vegas setting made it more fun given the amount of time we’ve both spent in Sin City over the last few years. The “wolfpack” speech by Alan (Zach Galifianakis) was a definite highlight, as was the tiger song performed by Stu (Ed Helms).

Stu wakes up to find a chicken in the suite in 'The Hangover' (2009)Something friends of ours had drawn our attention to before viewing was the apparent non sequitur of the chicken. While all of the story’s considerable complications seem reasonably resolved by The Hangover’s conclusion, no real explanation ever comes for the fact that when the fellas wake up in their Caesars Palace suite following their wild night there’s a chicken conspicuously present.

Even stranger, the guys never seem concerned to figure out why the chicken is there, instead content just to stumble over it repeatedly while they work on other puzzles. Of course, they might be forgiven by the fact that there are a number of other issues that seem more urgent, including the additional presence of a tiger and a baby in the suite, as well as the absence of their friend, the groom-to-be.

Vera and I talked about the chicken some afterwards, and I floated the idea that rather than representing a “mistake” in the plotting, its presence actually served to reinforce the idea that the rest of the film’s many loose ends had been tied. Not so much a MacGuffin -- i.e., a plot element that is also ambiguous but more integral to driving the action -- but really just a superfluous, non-integrated detail that reminds us how just about every other detail has significance. Just part of the overall game of concentration being played with the audience.

Alan playing blackjack in 'The Hangover' (2009)That response might be a little on the high-falutin’ side, but you get the point. It makes me think of how in poker some value can be created by making a non-characteristic or erratic-seeming play early in a session. Say you call a raise from out of position with a lousy hand, perhaps even give up another bet by the river, then showdown your trash as your opponent wins a small pot. Everyone pegs you as a noob with little understanding of hand values or the importance of position, then pay you off repeatedly when you subsequently play your usual solid game.

Of course, there we might say the poorly-played hand isn’t really like the chicken, because it is in fact integrated into the “plot” you’re creating during the early part or “exposition” of your session. Even so, it is similar insofar as the “failure” represented by the poorly-played hand helps make the “success” of the rest of your session seem that much more impressive. (And perhaps even more profitable.)

Pulling off such a move can be easier said than done, though. It is hard to play a hand badly deliberately. In fact, I’d suggest that usually when this sort of scenario develops it is because we’ve genuinely screwed up a hand early on, then settled down afterwards.

Anyhow, to get back to The Hangover, I admit I may be giving more attention to the silly chicken than is warranted. Although a bit of searching online reveals a lot of theories -- some considerably more abstract and involved than this one -- regarding it.

If I am going overboard here though, well, that’s okay. I’ll just have to be a one-man wolfpack on this one.

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