The music video for “Calamity Song” by the Decembrists is directed by Michael Schur, creator of “Parks and Recreation”, and is set to the Eschaton scene from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, pages 321-342. After I saw this video late last month I sought out the book to re-read the passage, and waited nearly two weeks for the CF Library to locate its “lost” copy.
The video is a fairly faithful adaptation of what I feel is the best chapter of the book. Infinite Jest takes place in Boston MA but the music video was filmed in Portland OR, so naturally they traded snow for rain. Josh Gopnik still punches LaMont Chu in the stomach. though LaMont Chu does not yell out that he’s been punched in the stomach.
My sole complaint is the ending. They neutered the final paragraph of the chapter, which spans pages 338-342. It ends —
Hal is suddenly aware that Troeltsch and Pemulis are wincing but is not himself wincing and isn’t sure why they are wincing and is looking out into the fray trying to determine whether he should be wincing when REDCHI’s General Secretary, calling loudly for his mother and in full flight as he looks over his shoulder at Ann Kittenplan’s contorted face, barrels directly into Lord’s speeding food cart. There’s a noise like the historical sum of all cafeteria accidents everywhere. 3.6-MB diskettes take flight like mad bats across what uncovered would be the baseline of Court 12. Different-colored beanies spill from the rolling solander box, whose lock’s hasp is broken and protrudes like a tongue as it rolls. The TP’s monitor and modem and Yushityu chassis, with most of Eschaton’s nervous system on its hard drive, assume a parabolic southwest vector. The heavy equipment’s altitude is impressive. An odd silent still moment hangs, the TP aloft. Pemulis bellows, his hands to his cheeks. Otis P. Lord hurdles the bent forms of food cart and General Secretary and sprints low over the court’s map’s snow, trying to save hardware that’s now at the top of its rainbow arc. It’s clear Lord won’t make it. It’s a slow-motion moment. The snowfall’s more than heave enough now, Hal thinks, to excuse Lord’s not seeing LaMont Chu directly before him, on his hands and knees, throwing up. Lord impacts Chu’s arched form at about knee-level and is spectacularly airborne. … Ann Kittenplan is ramming REDCHI’s leader’s face repeatedly into the mesh of the south fence. Lord’s flight’s parabola is less spectacular on the y-axis than the TP’s has been. The Yushityu’s hard-drive chassis makes an indescribable sound as it hits the earth and its brightly circuited guts come out. The color monitor lands on its back with its screen blinking ERROR at the white sky. Hal and everyone else can project Lord’s flight’s own terminus an instant before impact. For a brief moment that Hal will later regard as completely and uncomfortably bizarre, Hal feels at his own face to see whether he is wincing. The distant whistle patweets. Lord does indeed go headfirst down through the monitor’s screen, and stays there, his sneakers in the air and his warm-up pants sagging upward to reveal black socks. There’d been a bad sound of glass. … The second shift’s 1600h. siren down at Sunstrand Power & Light is creepily muffled by the no-sound of falling snow.
A visual guide to Eschaton is offered below (click to enlarge/read):
Adolescents from [Enfield] tennis academy are seen ritualistically serving balls on a court onto which a map of the world has been superimposed. The balls, which represent five-megaton nuclear warheads, are aimed at objects labeled as military targets — power plants, missile installations — while a lone child oversees the game from a nearby computer terminal.
All in all, it ain’t exactly Battleship. Wallace himself wrote that the athletic skills required by Eschaton separated it “from rotisserie-league holocaust games played with protractors and PCs around kitchen tables.”