Explosions by Mathieu Poulin (Translated by Aleshia Jensen)

[dropcap]Subtitled[/dropcap] Micheal Bay and the Pyrotechnics of the Imagination, you may, at first glance think this is an authorized biography of the acclaimed action film director and producer of such movies as Bad Boys, Armageddon and Transformers.  A closer look at the cover reveals the disclaimer: “A Novel.” So what we have here is a fictional story built around real people and events, an approach that movie enthusiast and first-time Quebec author Mathieu Poulin manages to carry off beautifully in Explosions (2018, QC Fiction, originally published in 2015 as Des Explosions), which has been scrupulously translated from French by Aleshia Jensen.*

The main premise in Explosions is that Michael Bay considers himself an intellectual director whose films traverse deep philosophical territory, as he explains to his ex-girlfriend, Daphné who is unconvinced:

“My films are essays on serious and complex topics. Bad Boys is a film on decolonization, regardless of what you insist on believing. The Rock, as a matter of fact, is about that very lack of understanding by one’s peers. Armageddon is about a post-human future that’s better at decoding the mystery of meaning. And Pearl Harbor, my latest film, is both a tribute to my country’s history and a reflection on the freedoms an artist enjoys when fictionalizing reality.”

To which she replies:

“Michael, you’re so intense. You’re giving me a headache. Look, maybe you think your movies say something, but honestly, it just doesn’t come across when you watch them. Your characters, for instance, are always one dimensional. It doesn’t feel like they’re real people, just clumsy pretexts for a bunch of action scenes.”

This only continues to fuel Michael’s already over-burdened sense of doubt, which is carried throughout the narrative. He doubts the love shown him by his adoptive parents, doubts his movies are being appreciated by the intelligentsia, and he doubts he will ever leave his mark in the annals of film history. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”David Denby, The New Yorker” link=”” color=”#0F155E” class=”” size=””][Michael Bay is] “stunningly, almost viciously, untalented”[/perfectpullquote]Mr. Poulin explores this and many more themes throughout Explosions in an oft-times satirical mode, other times serious, but always a little tongue-in-cheek. The book’s conclusion is a masterstroke of melding the Mortal world with the Immortal in true superhero fashion.

With its many references to classical philosophers and philosophy, film history and its revered directors such as Lang, Scorsese, Hitchcock, Cassavetes, Godard, Fassbinder and more, this novel will appeal to fans of film and philosophers alike. While I  am not much of either, I discovered the book to be very delightful to read and laughed out loud at not a few passages as poor Michael Bay continues to be undermined by the studio’s needs and the public’s wants:

“I dream of making a meaningful film, but am perpetually reduced to creating something sterile.”

While I have seen this method of fictionalizing reality before (see Michelle Butler-Hallett’s This Marlowe) it is a first for me to see it applied to people and events of the current time period. It is a humorous thought that the director whose movies have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars meant them to be anything other than noisy, violent action flicks. Matthieu Poulin’s deft writing tastefully explores that concept and I am convinced that Mr. Bay would be flattered that he is the subject of such an ingenious and well-executed work of fiction. Five stars!

I will definitely add it to my 2019 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Fiction.

*Note: this review was based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by QC Fiction in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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