White: Maybe it's not logical. I don't know. I don't care. I've been asked: didn't I think it odd that I should be around to witness the death of everything and I do think it's odd, but that doesn't mean it isn't so. Somebody has to be here.
Black: But you don't intend to hang around for it?
White: No I don't.The Sunset Limited is a 2011 television film based on the play written by Cormac McCarthy. The film stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.Two men with opposing beliefs confront each other in an apartment.The film involves only two nameless characters, designated "White" (played by Tommy Lee Jones) and "Black" (played by Samuel L. Jackson), their respective races. Just before this film begins, Black saves White from throwing himself in front of a train. The title "The Sunset Limited" is derived from the name of a passenger train that travels from New Orleans to Los Angeles. All of the action takes place in Black's sparse apartment, where the characters talk after their encounter on the platform. Black is an ex-convict and an evangelical Christian. White is an atheist and a professor. They debate the meaning of human suffering, the existence of God, and the propriety of White's attempted suicide.
This film provides the following examples:
- Aesop Collateral Damage: Black recounts his story of finding God after being being stabbed in prison, and includes a part where he busted open the head of his attacker and gave him permanent brain damage. White is unimpressed.White: You don't think this is a strange kind of story?Black: Yeah, I do think it's a strange kind of story.White: No, what I mean is that you didn't feel sorry for this man.Black: You're getting ahead of the story.White: The story of how a fellow inmate became a crippled one-eyed halfwit so that you could find God.
- The Atoner: Black is an ex con who served his time for murder and found God, and now wants to help people.
- Cessation of Existence: White positively longs for this. He wants to die and have it be the end.
- Crapsack World: Both Black and White see the world this way, the difference being that Black still chooses to believe it's redeemable.
- Crisis of Faith: White's final Despair Speech and departure causes Black to have one.
- Cynicism Catalyst: Black tries to get White to confess or perhaps realize that such an event happened to him that made him this way, but White says he's felt this nihilistic all his life.
- Despair Speech: Throughout the film, White indulges Black as best he can and tries not to offend or upset him. By the film's conclusion, Black demands to know how White really sees the world and White obliges, giving him a speech about the futility of life that's so hope-destroying that it nearly breaks Black.White: I don't believe in God. Can you understand that? Look around you man. Cant you see? The clamor and din of those in torment has to be the sound most pleasing to his ear. And I loathe these discussions. The argument of the village atheist whose single passion is to revile endlessly that which he denies the existence of in the first place. Your fellowship is a fellowship of pain and nothing more. And if that pain were actually collective instead of merely reiterative then the sheer weight of it would drag the world from the walls of the universe and send it crashing and burning through whatever night it might yet be capable of engendering until it was not even ash. And justice? Brotherhood? Eternal life? Good god, man. Show me a religion that prepares one for death. For nothingness. There's a church I might enter. Yours prepares one only for more life. For dreams and illusions and lies. If you could banish the fear of death from men's hearts, they wouldn't live a day. Who would want this nightmare if not for fear of the next? The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy. Every road ends in death. Every friendship. Every love. Torment, betrayal, loss, suffering, pain, age, indignity, hideous lingering illness. All with a single conclusion. For you and for every one and everything that you have chosen to care for. There's the true brotherhood. The true fellowship. And everyone is a member for life. You tell me that my brother is my salvation? My salvation? Well then damn him! Damn him in every shape and guise and form. Do I see myself in him? Yes I do, and what I see sickens me. Do you understand me? Can you understand me?
- Don't Fear the Reaper: White feels warm and fuzzy inside when thinking about the peace and silence of death.White: I know what is out there and I know who is out there. I rush to nuzzle his bony cheek. No doubt heíll be surprised to find himself so cherished. And as I cling to his neck, I will whisper in that dry and ancient ear: Here I am. Here I am!
- Downer Ending: For Black.
- Driven to Suicide: Just before the film begins, Black saves White from throwing himself in front of a train. From White's point of view, no matter how great someone or something is, all that is created eventually fades away. Black feels that he can persuade White from committing suicide. He still wants to by the end, apparently leaving intending this.White I long for darkness. I pray for death, real death. And if I thought that in death I would meet the people I knew in life, I don't know what I would do. That would be the ultimate horror, the ultimate nightmare. If I thought I was gonna meet my mother again an' start all of that over, only this time without the prospect of death to look forward to... that would be the final nightmare. Goddamn Kafka on wheels.Black:: The light is all around you but you don't see nothing but shadow, and you're the one causing it.... Damn, professor. You don't want to see your own mama?White: No, I don't. I want the dead to be dead. Forever. And I want to be one of them. Except of course, you canít be one of them. You canít be one of the dead, because that which has no existence can have no community. No community! My heart warms just thinking about it. Blackness, alone-ness, silence, peace... And all of it only a heartbeat away. There is only the hope of nothingness and I cling to that hope.
- Evil Matriarch: White hints that his mother was one.White: If I thought I was gonna meet my mother again and start all of that over, only this time without the prospect of death to look forward to - that would be the final nightmare. Goddamn Kafka on wheels.
- Good Shepherd: Black is a man of God, but he truly is a good man first, and works hard to help the many drug addicts in his part of town.
- Good with Numbers: Black learned to do arithmetic with big numbers in his head while in prison.Black: Numbers is the black man's friend. Butter and eggs. Crap table. You quick with numbers, you can work the mojo on you brother. Confiscate the contents of his pocketbook.
- Happy Ending: Black tries to insure one. He fails.
- Hates Everyone Equally: White is an unashamed misanthrope, and implies that he can't wait to die to finally be free from other people.White: I long for the darkness. I pray for death, real death. And if I thought that in death I would meet the people I knew in life, I don't know what I would do. That would be the ultimate horror, the ultimate nightmare.White: I want the dead to be dead. Forever. And I want to be one of them. Except of course, you canít be one of them. You canít be one of the dead, because that which has no existence can have no community. No community! My heart warms just thinking about it. Blackness, alone-ness, silence, peace... And all of it only a heartbeat away.
- The Heretic: Black considers himself one despite being a devout Christian, due to not believing every single word in the Bible is literally true, and saying the Bible is really for the sick at heart and that a whole person wouldn't even need it to begin with.
- Hollywood Atheist: White is a depressed, suicidal atheist who thinks life is meaningless due to it ending in death. He hates people generally and religion in particular.
- Hope Crusher: White becomes this to Black once he feels pushed too far when Black insists that he describe the world as he sees it.
- Hope Spot: Towards the end, Black gives a very compelling argument that White could have happiness and it almost looks like White is willing to accept it... until he shoots it down.
- Insistent Terminology: Black always calls prison "the jailhouse", and White questions him on it. Black says it's something that rural black people say, as it's a more honest term to use.
- Insult of Endearment: Black calls White "Honey" all the time, much to White's irritation. When questioned about it, Black says he doesn't mean anything bad by it, he just uses it with anyone to let them know they're in a safe place with a friend.
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: White is a brilliant college professor who shares a mutual loathing with his colleagues and is generally a misanthrope. He has no friends, except for one man he has lunch with sometimes.
- Interrupted Suicide: The film opens in the aftermath of White's attempted suicide where Black tackled him and stopped him jumping in front of a subway train.
- Locked in a Room: The film takes place entirely in Black's apartment. Black has White locked in until he can convince White to keep on living.
- Magical Negro: Subverted with Black who not only fails to give White any hope, but nearly loses all hope himself after White's Despair Speech.
- The Nameless: The two main characters are identified in the credits only as Black and White, with no names given.
- Near-Death Experience: Black had one long ago while serving time in prison. He was stabbed and nearly died from the blood loss. The event led him to find God.
- N-Word Privileges: Black says it all the time, to the point where White finds it offensive.
- Powerful and Helpless: All of Black's arguments wind up falling flat and his sincere and powerful belief in God, Jesus, heaven and love do absolutely nothing to convince White that life isn't a cruel futile joke and that death isn't a sweet release. Black is presented as a Magical Negro who has to come to terms with the fact that his wisdom is completely useless in helping White.
- Preacher Man: Black, and he believes it with all his heart. While he does try to suggest belief in God as a way for White to want to go on living, he doesn't try to force it down his throat. Black is much more concerned that White simply find a reason to live and be happy.
- Protagonist/Deuteragonist: Black and White. It is up to the audience to decide which is which.
- Rage Against the Heavens: After White finally leaves, evidently to carry out his suicide, Black rants and raves at God for not giving him the wisdom to help White before breaking down in tears.Black: I don't understand why you sent me down there! I don't understand! If you wanted me to help him, then how come you didn't give me the words? You gave them to him! What about me!?
- Religion Is Wrong: What White believes about religion in general.White: Show me a religion that prepares one for nothingness, for death. That's a church I might enter. Yours prepares one only for more life, for dreams and illusions and lies.
- Starting a New Life: Black suggests this to White as an alternative to suicide once he runs out of other ideas to help. He tells White that he could just walk out on his life and start over from scratch in some other place doing something else and choosing to be a new person. White just can't bring himself to do it.
- Straw Nihilist: White claims to see the world as it truly is, "without dreams or illusions", and suggests that anyone who doesn't "eat up with the dumbass" should also see the world in the same way and wish to die as soon as possible.
- Wrong Side of the Tracks: Black's apartment is in a rundown slum in a dingy part of town full of drug addicts and thieves. White doesn't understand why Black chooses to live there, but Black says he has to be where there's trouble in order to help people in trouble.