A Frame-by-Frame Breakdown of a Man Falling into the River Thames
What can we learn about ourselves from this viral video of a man falling over? Nothing. It’s just funny. Stop trying to learn things about yourself.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Have you ever hopped Mario up like three platforms, then rounded a corner, and you—you as Mario—need to make a double-length jump across two high arches, which you nail, but then there’s a sort of sand-covered angular wall on the other side, and you—or you as Mario, all fingers and all thumbs—somehow accidentally pop into a crouch, and slide and slide and slide and slide and slide, all the way down again, until you fall right back to where you just started with a soft small: shhhhhht?
I've been watching this video a lot, lately. You will notice that, in this video, there are two emotions at play, each one on the extreme end of the same spectrum: cheerful, boyish joy, and then deep humiliation. One comes quickly after the other. They start so well, the guys—it’s a hot day and they fancy a little dip in the River Thames. But then, something I can only describe as "that time my horse stopped running and I motionlessly fell down an entire cliff in Red Dead Redemption" happens, and one of them skids an infinite amount of time down some stairs, thudda–thudda–thudda–thudda–thudda, and ends up in the water. Then he’s just in his jeans and topless, lying face down in the Thames, and it feels like the Windows error message sound should play for a moment, and then he gets up, wet and humiliated, thoroughly humbled.
So, you know, you can sort of divide this man’s life into two halves. Here: innocent, joyful, full of hope, expectant of frolics:
And then here, post-Matrix glitch (P.M.G., as he will mark his life from now on), red and hot with embarrassment, standing topless in the Thames.
Can you imagine going from this:
In, like, three seconds? Your life just changed. You’re never going to be the man at the top of the steps ever again.
We have to interrogate the idea that the man wanted to get into the Thames until he started sliding wordlessly into the Thames, at which point he stopped wanting to go in the Thames but could not pull himself out of the tailspin that was dragging him down unavoidably into the river. Really, he wanted to go into the Thames until the Thames came up to meet him, or: He wanted to get in the river on his own terms.
That, I think, is the great sadness of this video: The man was excited to get into the Thames. He was enjoying a hot day on the banks of the river with his pal. And then the heel of one shoe slipped out from beneath him, and he skidded like honest-to-God the first version of Tomb Raider where Lara kept getting nailed by one invisible polygon on the steps to some temple and just started floating down, thudda–thudda–thudda–thudda–thudda, and then he stopped wanting to get into the Thames. The joy evaporated from within him. In that moment—that long, endless moment, where he was just skidding, skidding, skidding, and skidding—he became Schrödinger’s wet boi. At once wanting to get in the river and not.
At what point did that fall become too much? I’ve been thinking about it a lot. We all fall over—it happens, our feet slip out from under us, we crumple, we fall—and we have all, at some point, fallen down some steps. This is universal. But I think there is a very acceptable amount of time you can spend sliding down those steps post-fall where it is alright, and then where it's gone on a bit too long, and then by the emergency point where you really should have grabbed something and stopped sliding by now, and then full "are you still falling over?" embarrassment, and all of those stages are visibly at play here:
"Are you OK?"
"Dude, come on."
A word on how this video came to be made: This video should never have been made. The wording at the start of the video almost makes me think the whole thing has been staged—"So here we are, here's Henry," it starts, "and here we are at the Thames. And all of a sudden, we’ve now go—oh, hold on a minute, what’s going on here? There’s two blokes gonna go in—" [A man falls for an infinite amount of time down some stairs; laughing so hard it hurts]—but it turns out this dip into the Thames was part of some team-building cross-city treasure hunt, and this was sort of meant to happen right until a man started sliding while the earth was young and only stopped sliding again when the earth had aged a thousand millennia and crumbled to dirt below him, and he did not win the treasure hunt, not at all.
The video also taps into a niche and slowly-dying genre I like to call the "dad video." You know what a dad video is? The entire economy of [the British TV show]You’ve Been Framed is built upon it. A dad video is something that has happened every day since you showed your dad how to make videos on his phone, and now he has this shame-free compulsion to constantly record the mundane: Your dad, halting abruptly in the middle of foot traffic to do a panorama of the high street; your dad, an unflattering angle walk-and-talk selfie video of him striding breathlessly through a grocery store parking lot, talking about Brexit, which he is convinced is going to go viral on all his straight talking Facebook groups, eventually only gets 16 views; your dad, shakily zooming in on a distant table at a Sunday morning car boot. This might not have been recorded by a dad, but it is still a dad video, the kind of stream-of-consciousness we’re-in-London uninteresting crappy thing that dads do, and I’m glad for it: We criticize our always-on, phones-up society, don’t we—once every two years there’s always a viral video of some earnest guy reading a poem directly into a camera, "your phone is rotting your brain / look up at the sky, it might rain"—but for me, it’s actually good. If we did not have dads and dad-lites constantly recording the mundane, we would miss moments of pure magic and glee like this. The world would be a poorer place. Surveillance culture? Bad. Recording guys skidding infinitely on their face, knees, and ass into [what used to be] the dirtiest river in Europe? Extremely, extremely good.
We’ve been through my highest moment of embarrassment before. Looking at this I can only assume this is his. All I can think is: How much is this man still glowing, hot and pink, 24 entire hours after sliding for a hundred thousand years down some shallow steps into the Thames? I feel like you could still cook an egg on him, with the heat of this embarrassment. That he is still topless, sitting sadly and unblinking on a sofa because his body is still running so hot he doesn’t technically need clothes. You could put him in a bath of cold water and his sheer presence in it would heat it up to a nice lukewarm temperature. He wanted a quick dip in the Thames for banter with his friend; what he got was a lifetime of humiliation and regret.
Oh, right, a conclusion. Umm: the Thames is death, the steps are all of us, the man’s inexorable slide into the gray waters below is our movement through life. It represents how we start out with hope but are crushed by the almost-flat steps of capitalism, skidding on the bird shit of debt, and are we not, all of us, topless men sliding forever down some steps on the Thames?
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