Down but not out: film, theatre, art and more for dealing with failure | Culture


Pinching the lapels of his inadequate coat against a frigid February in New York, cat-losing folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) trudges back in mud-filled shoes from a failed audition in Chicago, only to fail a second time: his gig at the Gaslight Cafe is just a footnote to Bob Dylan’s gig that same night. Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis stayed true to its themes by underperforming at the box office, but like the songs Llewyn plays with sensitivity to audiences next to none, the tragicomic portrayal of defeat retains a beautiful, sad warmth, like a rare and absurdly comforting minor key. -key of anthem for life’s also-rans. Jessica Kiang

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Memory lost… All not saved. Photo: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

Memory repeatedly fails us. In All not saved, a cunning performance by the brilliant Irish theater company Malaprop, the unreliability of our minds intertwines with surreal tales of false history. As the certainty of the things we remember collapses, so does the show, the scenes almost pixelating for us. This isn’t a story of hope, but rather a cynical—and sometimes painfully funny—look at the actual flaws of our minds: how we desperately look for patterns in things that don’t exist, place ourselves in events we didn’t have. see and trust ourselves without any doubt. Failure here is not an emotional entanglement, but something that we simply cannot avoid. Kate Wyver


The right place.
Hell is for heroes… The Good Place. Photo: NBC/Getty Images

Arguably the only TV show ever to combine snarky humor with practical moral philosophy lessons and make both work, Michael Schur’s comedy about the afterlife the right place explores that great fantasy of anyone who feels like a failure: the second chance (or should that be an infinite number of second chances?). The main characters’ quartet, whether they realized it or not, were all failures. By opening up eternity to them, the show did something redeeming and counterintuitive: It stated that there is always another chance for something better to fail. It took the shame of failure away, suggesting that it is always relative and arguing that small, modest steps can have surprising results. Phil Harrison


The Guide by Peter Heller - book cover

In Peter Heller’s latest novel, The guide, fishing guide Jack is a broken man when he arrives to work at a boutique resort for the super-rich in the mountains of Colorado. His best friend has passed away and he blames himself; his mother died, and he blames himself. He doesn’t know where he’s going, or whether he wants his life to go somewhere. But as Jack settles into his new role, he begins to question the terrifying security surrounding this exclusive sanctuary, why some customers don’t seem to be fishing at all, and the scream he hears one night. This sequel to Heller’s equally brilliant The River is extraordinary: a unique blend of thriller, post-Covid dystopia and ode to nature’s healing properties, as Jack slowly finds his way back to himself. Alison Flood


Tracey Emin.
Bring back that beat… Tracey Emin. Photo: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

It wasn’t a lack of ability that caused young Tracey Emin to miss out on a dancing career. It was a bunch of saucy young men who soured her moment during a qualifying round of the British disco dancing championship. She loved to dance, she reveals in her devastating 1995 video Why INever became a Dancer, but also led a dangerous life in the dilapidated Margate by the sea. The boys emphasized her sexuality and chanted “Blow, bang, bang” as she danced. Her attempt at fame ended in humiliation. But she made a new life as an artist and turned failure into this triumph by telling her bullies on the soundtrack, “Shane, Eddy, Tony, Doug, Richard… This one’s for you.” And she dances on. Jonathan Jones

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