Mightier Than Julius Caesar

If you’re like me, you’ve probably followed the travails of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 for weeks now. It’s kind of hard not to get sucked in: this story has it all. Mystery, drama, and intrigue. Stolen passports. Deleted flight simulator data. Cell phones that keep on ringing. It has become the biggest mystery of modern times, a 21st-century version of Amelia Earhart, on a much larger scale.

But…why? malaysia-airlines-mh370

Why has this story so gripped the American psyche, when it has faded from the headlines in other countries? Why do we latch on to every new discovery so fervently, knowing in our hearts that today’s “promising lead” will turn into tomorrow’s {moss-covered piece of floating trash/school of porpoises/smudge on the satellite lens}? In this era of instant information, our society is obsessed with finding answers. There are no unknowns anymore. Want to know the origins of chop suey, who invented the first flashbulb, what the third largest city in Iceland is? The answer, my friend, is no longer blowin’ in the wind. It’s just a few quick keystrokes away. (Chinese immigrants in the U.S. based the dish on tsap seui, which translates to “miscellaneous leftovers,” during the 19th century; Joshua Lionel Cowen in 1899; Hafnarjordur). If knowledge is power, then today’s average citizen is mightier than Julius Caesar.

But there are plenty of unknowns still.

People keep asking how we can lose an airplane with 239 people aboard when Google Earth can zoom in on a blade of grass poking through the asphalt in a deserted parking lot in North Dakota. The truth is, people lose things all the time. I don’t just mean “hope” and “confidence,” I’m referring to solid objects like car keys and wallets. We moved over a month ago, and still can’t find a big clock we had hanging in our living room. And a wine rack. But I’m not obsessing over those missing objects, and haven’t once hijacked my Facebook newsfeed with a BREAKING NEWS: MYSTERIOUS OBJECT IN BOTTOM OF BOX MAY BE MISSING CLOCK status update. I just figure, those items will show up eventually. Or maybe they never will. I can accept that and move on. Granted, if your loved one was on that plane, it would be harder to “let it go.” I don’t expect the families to do so. But for the average guy on the street half a world away, this story has run its course. Really, it’s okay if we just shrug our shoulders and say “I don’t know” when asked about the fate of the doomed flight. Doing so is not admitting defeat, it’s simply accepting the fact that, despite remarkable breakthroughs in technology, science, medicine, etc., there are still mysteries in the world.

I, for one, am okay with never knowing what happened. That just makes my whole “abducted by aliens” theory less refutable.

Speaking of mysteries, have you seen the movie All Is Lost? If not, READ NO FURTHER. I’M GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE ENDING.


The movie is about an older man (played by Robert Redford) who is sailing solo across the Indian Ocean when his boat strikes a shipping container, which gashes the hull. He spends the rest of the movie – which is almost completely dialogue-free – trying to keep his boat from sinking.


Ultimately, his efforts are futile. Fast-forward to the very end of the movie. In the final scene, after setting off a distress flare, he gives up and is drifting to the bottom of the sea when a hand reaches in and plucks him from the watery depths.

Yay! He’s saved! Right?

Well, Tara and I had two completely different reactions to this scene. She took it literally and was glad for a happy ending, while I sat there shaking my head, lamenting the fact that he had just died.


It turns out that is exactly what the director, J.C. Chandor, wanted to accomplish with an ambiguous ending: to divide people, and get them talking about what they thought happened. It’s similar to The Sopranos’ notorious fade-to-black final scene, one that drove fans crazy because – much like the mystery of the Malaysia Airlines flight – it never definitively answered what happened. We were asked instead to fill in the blanks ourselves. In an interview with The New York Times, Chandor says, “The goal of the film is a little bit of an emotional litmus test. In that last scene you hopefully had that visceral reaction, and whatever you’re thinking at that moment teaches you about your own view toward all these big issues that I’m talking about.” Reportedly, audiences are split roughly 50-50 over the ending. Half believe he lives, half believe he dies. And Chandor says there is no right or wrong answer. 

To me, the hand reaching down from the heavens accompanied by a flash of bright white light convinced me he was dead. But maybe the hand from his purported rescuer really was just that: a hand from his rescuer. Nobody knows for certain, just like nobody knows the fate of MH370.

And yet, life goes on. Right?



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17 thoughts on “Mightier Than Julius Caesar

  1. I didn’t read the end, as I haven’t seen the movie. However, the whole airplane thing is strange. I had a friend here in Cuenca who over a month ago posted a status update about waking up to a MA 777 in his living room. So maybe it’s gone REALLY off course and ended up in the Andes somewhere. Hope your clock and wine rack have not also ended up in Buddy’s living room. I’ll put in a call to him, just to double check.

    Hugs from Ecuador,


  2. Ok, I read the spoilers, but you can’t blame me, I’m a see the movie first kind of person. And, I read the last page of the book before I actually earned getting there. I still would like to see this movie.

    And I’m really glad you explained the origin of chop suey. I was curious after you threw it out there.


  3. Yes, I’ve been following this story too, Mark, and cannot figure out what happened to that plane. It’s such a strange occurrence because it’s like the plane just VANISHED!

    ““abducted by aliens”

    I thought that too. And also something the Bermuda Triangle. But I do feel sorry for the family and friends of the people on that plane because they’re left with no closure.

    I haven’t seen the movie you mentioned but it sounds great! And even without seeing it, I think I would believe as you did…a hand reaching down from the heavens.

    I gotta watch this movie now.


    1. The Bermuda Triangle crossed my mind, too. Except they were thousands of miles away. Maybe it was a wormhole to another dimension instead. Which means that plane could be buzzing low over a herd of brontosaurus as I’m typing these words. Whoa….


  4. I thought he died also. I wasn’t disappointed by this, just thought ‘well there you go’.

    Things happen, we fly great big birds across the ocean stuff is bound to happen now and again. It is tragic, families lose loved ones. We latch on to the mystery.


  5. The airplane thing – I call it the OJ Trial Syndrome. People get obsessed and infatuated with such nonsense and it captivates them and monopolizes cable news. Meantime another dozen or two US soldiers killed in battle – where’s the news? The interest?


    1. Good analogy. I remember watching the verdict live, at work, on a weekday. We were all inexplicably hooked…never mind the fact that plenty of “real” news was happening!


    1. For me, it depends how it’s done. I read a book called “End Of Story” (Peter Abrahams) in which the very last line was a huge, but ambiguous, twist. I still think it was one of the cleverest thrillers I’ve ever read, all because of that single line.

      Glad you didn’t disappear into the far reaches of the spam universe again.


  6. Like you, I am sick to death of hearing about the missing plane & the billions of dollars being spent searching for it. After more than a month, it’s gone people. I feel sorry for the families who lost someone on the plane, but if they honestly think these people are ever going to be found, they should think again. Please news sources move onto something else.


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