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In ‘M3gan,’ a Detective’s Guilty Laugh Speaks Volumes About Him (and Us)


In a recent podcast with Conan O’Brien, the stand-up Bill Burr described how, when faced with essentially the most horrible things within the news or in movies (assault, death, fire), he couldn’t help but laugh. In an aggrieved tone, he asked: Am I purported to only moan and sob on the drumbeat of terrible events? Still, in a video clip of the conversation, Burr, not to say O’Brien, looked uncomfortable with this confession. But what if he’s just saying out loud what many individuals experience and won’t admit to?

Humor isn’t only a coping mechanism. It’s so intricately woven into every day life that you would be able to’t easily divorce it from tragic situations.

What if laughing at a boy getting his ear ripped off isn’t merely Grand Guignol comedy, but in addition a sensible response to an extreme situation, by an individual, incidentally, whose job probably invites him to see murder and mayhem as mundane.

What great art tells us time and again is that laughter and crying will not be that different, each releasing tension and simply bleeding into the opposite.

In “Breaking Bad,” Walter White, in a memorable moment of desperation contained in the crawl space in his home, bursts out sobbing, which turns into disturbing cackles echoing through the home. On the end of the unique “Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” the ultimate girl, Sally Hardesty, flees a masked killer by crawling into the back of a pickup truck, where her tears and screams turn to jittery laughter.

Such a conflation of emotions goes back centuries, at the least to Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” a preposterous horror-comedy of the Elizabethan era that makes “M3gan” look prim and tasteful. When its title character laughs after he’s sent the decapitated heads of his sons along along with his own severed hand (Google it), did the ticket buyers on the Globe smirk? What about when Titus’s brother retorts, sensibly: “Why dost thou laugh? It suits not with this hour.” The response could be played madly, exhausted or something in between: “Why, I actually have not one other tear to shed.”

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