My fear of heights

It’s one of the basic human emotions, and I’m more or less obsessed with it: FEAR. I’ve said, “Fear rules my life,” or alternatively to quote a Kurosawa film title, “I live in fear,” and while these statements may not be literally true, fear is still a pretty big part of my lifestyle. Hell, it’s a major element of human life in general! You can’t be a human being, for the most part, without being afraid of something. There’s a movie with Jeff Bridges and Isabella Rossellini called Fearless that I may watch some time (solely for Isabella – just to hear her sexy Swedish-Italian voice). Daredevil is sometimes called “The Man Without Fear.” And granted, at a certain point, fear becomes debilitating. Ask anyone with a phobia. Or even though I’ve never been diagnosed with anything, ask me! Or don’t and I’ll tell you anyway.

For example: I am afraid of heights. Seriously afraid of heights. To the point that when I’m in a hotel room a couple stories up, I have to hold tight onto something stable and I still fantasize about the whole structure collapsing and somehow throwing me to my death. I think an overactive imagination is not helpful when it comes to irrational fear. I mean, it’s one thing for your imagination to lead you into elaborate, insane fantasies about people doing irrational, generally vulgar and sexual activities out of the blue. But then there’s the times when you can’t do something because your imagination’s rule of thumb is, “Conditions will work together to throw me to my death.” It’s like Murphy’s law except nothing can go wrong so you have to imagine that it will! I had something like this today, but I can’t remember just what it was. Oh, right! OK, so I was watching a piano being burned as performance art in the middle of campus. And I heard some popping – like normal wood popping as it burns. And my thought process was something like this:

“Oh no. What if one of the strings is under a lot of tension, and it gets burnt off, and it flies over here and slices into my head and kills me?” I actually imagined that happening. And it made me quiver a little. Luckily it was too crowded for me to turn tail and run, but still, I think that’s a bad sign. My fears have gotten alternately better and worse throughout my life, but they still get pretty ridiculous. One recurring theme is the fear that I’ll be skipping along, then dash down some stairs, then slip and go flying and smash my head on something and die. This can also just involve a potentially slippery sidewalk. My visions of what concrete can do to a human head are far gorier than, I suspect, anything concrete actually does do, especially on a daily basis and out of the blue. According to my psyche, if you just trip a little while running on a sidewalk, you go crashing down, and maybe your scalp gets ripped off or your skull crumbles as it tumbles onto the hard ground. These are just the occasional fears that flash in my head. They don’t paralyze me or keep me from walking like normal, but the point is that if a situation could conceivably lead to some kind of painful outcome related to falling or head trauma, I’m fairly likely to imagine it happening.

The other day I was thinking about one image I’ve seen in a few movies: take the scenes in Star Wars set on the Death Star, in these areas where you have to travel along thin catwalks… or else you fall forever to your death.

Why would you build that?

Other movies with similar scenes include Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940). Basically, what I’m talking about is places that, through some satanic miracle of architecture, have vertical depths that go down, down, down, and, well, pretty much just all the way down! The Thief of Baghdad scene, I think, had killer octopi (octopuses? octopodes?) at the bottom for some reason. But if you’ve fallen that far, do you really care what’s lying in wait to eat you? The scenes in Forbidden Planet apparently involved some kind of Krell power plant that took up miles and miles of space underground. That’s a fascinating movie that I used to just love but haven’t revisited for a while. It’s basic premise is interesting enough (and some damn good Shakespearean sci-fi), as it concerns the now-extinct residents of the titular planet, the Krell, who apparently had enormous heads and unimaginable intelligence. The brilliant twist? We never see them; all we see are the toys (and power plants) their civilization left behind. It’s a nice little underlying theme reminiscent of, oh, earlier horror movies, and even (given the mood I’ve been in as of late) Lovecraft – first, how the sins of a long-dead race can even curse visitors from earth. And as for unseen aliens who mastered the secrets of altering matter with their minds, and only indirectly affect human beings? Definitely something Lovecraftian there. Here’s a sample of the Krell structure, which I just read was an influence on Star Wars‘s set design.

Why would you build that, either?

You start to get an idea of how this scared the wits out of younger me, and continues to terrify me. Just the idea of standing somewhere where a little slip to the left or right would mean plummeting forever and then SPLAT – I would, no doubt, be lying on the catwalk immobile hoping to magically get off of it without standing up. For some reason the idea of a bottomless pit scares me less. Maybe because it’s less realistic? Or because there’s nothing to worry about at the bottom?

I’m going to sleep now – I’m tired and sick and have work in 8 1/2 hours. But I hope you enjoyed this peek into my crippling fears. And if you ever see me somewhere up high, clinging like hell to whatever’s closest, you’ll understand. Maybe another day, I’ll delve into my constant fears when it comes to social interactions and being around other people, or maybe the pleasures of fear. It’s a rich topic.

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Filed under Cinema, Personal

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