If 42 is the answer, what is the question? This cosmic game of Jeopardy! can produce many interesting results. Perhaps the question is “What was Jackie Robinson’s number?” Or it could possibly be “What is the last number in the series ‘4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42’ from LOST?” Of course, there’s always the obvious mathematical and scientific questions which are answered by 42, such as “What is 101010 in binary?” or “What do you get if you multiply six by nine?” (which is actually 54), but they would only cover part of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The real trick with this number is that, because it does have its famous connotation as “the Answer,” it is often referenced in popular culture. As such, naming conventions that need a number often are given 42, since it is seen as a “completely ordinary number.” This week’s two films examine two different uses of the number 42.
Length: 89 minutes / 1.48 hours
Some people find their answer to Life in what they do. If they can become famous, they suddenly have meaning. But how does one become famous? For your name to become a household regularity, the best way to do this would be to perform on the stage. Granted, movie stars get to fame much quicker, but where do you think many of them start? If you don’t have the time to work your way up in the theatre, you need to jump to stardom in one great leap: starring in a Broadway production. And yet, Broadway is still a big place, so the question is: what cross-street would you need to perform on? The answer? 42nd Street. Even though we know (from films like All About Eve (1950)) that fame is fleeting and being the star on stage opens you up for usurpation, we still strive for those 15 minutes of fame as the answer to our lives.
Many lives hinge on the success of a show on Broadway, especially when finances are thin. Of course, funds were the thinnest right after the Great Depression. Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) has a decision on his hands: does he direct Pretty Lady and risk his health (or his life) or does he pass up this opportunity and risk not having enough money to carry on with life? To make matters worse, the financier of the show, Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee) is only paying for the musical because the lead, Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels), is stringing him along. When Julian learns Dorothy’s relationship with out-of-work actor Pat Denning (George Brent) is still ongoing and could jeopardize the whole operation, he makes sure they know how serious it would be if they were found out. And yet, a day before the show opens, Dorothy breaks her ankle and Abner wants his new girlfriend, Annie Lowell (Ginger Rogers), to be the star. Annie refuses and instead gets Julian to work with up-and-coming actress Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) to put on a great show, which she does.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours
I would be terribly amiss if I didn’t make the second film this week the source of the theme. Based on the book of the same name, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) is a pop-culture goldmine of absurdist quotes and situations, including this week’s titular “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” Along with “42,” the book series has spawned many other phrases like “So long, and thanks for all the fish,” “Mostly harmless,” and “Don’t panic,” which each have their own meanings and significance. And yet, “The Answer” is perhaps the most well-known part of this series, not only because the characters in the books are trying to figure out what the answer means, but because everyone else in the real world has tried to figure out “The Question to the Answer” as well, but to no avail.
Douglas Adams has debunked all speculations on “The Question to the Answer” by saying that he made up the number since it seemed like the most ordinary number he could come up with. But why is the number significant? Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is thrust into galactic travel when he learns that his house is to be demolished to make way for an important road. Oh, and the Earth is about to be destroyed as well. With the help of his friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), an alien researching Earth for “The Guide,” Arthur escapes Earth’s demise, only to be caught up with some other strange characters, not the least of which is the President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell). Zaphod is searching to discover “The Question,” which is unfortunate because apparently it has just been destroyed to make way for an important hyperspace road. Fortunately, “The Question” is being rebuilt, and Arthur is the key to unlocking “The Answer.”
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 cosmic questions