True Detective: The Dream Gene

by June Lee

Still Image from True Detective (2014)

Still Image from True Detective (2014)

Yesterday marked the last day of classes for university students before the long awaited reading break, and for all of those out there, including myself, hoping to entrap themselves in a blanket and cave with their favourite episodes, I encourage you towards the HBO mystery, True Detective.

Written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukunaga, True Detective follows Rustin Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, and Martin Hart, played by Woody Harrelson, as they investigate the murder of Dora Lange in 1995. The series recounts this investigation through a 2012 interrogation of both detectives regarding the supposedly closed homicide case in 1995, where their storytelling is cut with footage of what really happened 17 years ago.

Still image form True Detective (2014)

Still image form True Detective (2014)

The show is beautifully captured with aerial shots of lush green Louisiana swamps and prairie landscapes—but what caught my interest was not the cinematography, but the contrasting pessimistic views of DetectiveCohle. His perspective on life can be seen throughout the show during his interrogation by Detectives Maynard Gilbough and Thomas Papania, who are attempting to capture Cohle as the main suspect for the continuing murders since 1995. Between his cigarette drags and alcoholism, Cohle lectures his interrogators on the grim and despondent banalities of life, where he suggests a “gene deep certainty that things will be different,” and the hope that life will be better.

The idea of a biological preset to humanity’s entire approach to life is fascinating, especially to those who have studied evolutionary biology. I remember one of my microbiology professors said, “life isn’t survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the barely tolerable.” This alluded to that day’s lesson where we were learning about the beginnings of how genes came about and how heritable life began. Essentially, a long time ago, there was a series of gene mutations that didn’t kill the organism and was heritable, which led to those traits becoming a part of evolutionary history. Going back to Cohle and his idea of the human consciousness being a gene deep characteristic, it’s safe to say that he believed our existence was simply a “misstep” – a mutation that was tolerated into existence.

Still Image from True Detective (2014)

Still Image from True Detective (2014)

I think Cohle would like to believe his nihilism is a product of his subconscious reacting to the inconsistencies in the dream he is living. This is realized after the death of his daughter and his subsequent years undercover in High Intensity Drug Trafficking. Why he obsesses over his cases, clutching tightly to the narrative of the notebook he carries around; why his partner constantly finds the need to cheat on his wife? Because deep in their minds, they are aware of the absurdities and inconsistencies of the dream, and their obsession and cheating is a way to keep the dream from falling apart.

Still Image from True Detective (2014)

Still Image from True Detective (2014)

So if you get a chance to watch True Detective, or have already watched it, try to notice the flashback format of the show, how jarring and disruptive it is. How Hart frantically clings to the idea of a perfect family man, and how many of us also strive for a similar narrative. On the other hand, if you are fully confident in your own existence, then cheers to you for living the dream.


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