The Sunset Limited


Cormac McCarthy's playscript-novella opens with a scene at a train station. A troubled man, White, leaps suicidally from his platform only to land on another troubled man, Black. McCarthy allows himself to play with the idea of the (fallen) angel and the Good Samaritan: Black, picking himself and White up off the concrete, jokes that White has fallen clean out of the sky. To this deeply religious man, being positioned to catch a falling man feels like a sign from God (we don't ask ourselves yet exactly what Black himself was really doing on the platform's edge). It seems clear at this auspicious start that White is the person in need and Black the very person with the emotional resources to help him.                Most of the ensuing action takes place in Black's bare New York apartment, in what are increasingly claustrophobic scenes: Black fights a losing battle to persuade White to live. McCarthy doesn't seem to want to delve too deeply into White's back story, or whatever complex roots there may have been to his decision to jump, we only learn the broadest brush strokes, Black's seemingly un-intrusive questions nonetheless reveal a disconnectedness or alienation, at the heart of White's otherwise successful, privileged life. Black believes that he has the answer to White's troubles and he begins his own confessional-inspirational tale, which has a broadly Christian message (although the essence of it, hope, a purposeful life, etc. could as easily be found in any of the six major religions). White neatly sends back all of Black's arguments and the conversation increasingly takes on the tenor of a struggle to the death, with White's suicide being the constant spectre in the room.                        So White argues and rejects but it is only when he gets up and strides out the door, still unconvinced that he has any purpose, that McCarthy neatly turns the tables on us. We now see our Good Samaritan gently coming apart. His guest has, it now seems, been accidentally dangerous to him and the existence or otherwise of God, at this precise moment seems to be beside the point: Black is bereft of the hope which had enabled him to take on his own troubles and deal with his traumatic past. As he falls apart in his own doorway, we feel every atom of McCarthy's sensitive rage: that White came to this room for help, never seeing that he was supposed to be it.   
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Cormac McCarthy
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