The theatrical release, in 1994, of the film Speed marked the arrival of Sandra Bullock as a Hollywood lead actress and began Keanu Reeves’ career as an action star. Sadly, it also typecast Dennis Hopper as a deranged bad guy, as if he hadn’t already reached the apex of weird villainy in Blue Velvet in 1986.
Not many people are aware that amphetamines were discovered in 1887 and thereafter applied to the treatment of ADHD, narcolepsy and obesity. I like to imagine what speed freaks looked like in the 1890s, like highly productive Abe Lincoln-alikes, wearing stovetop hats and chopping down WAY too many trees, because sleep is for the Victorians, right?
We all crave speed. Even when we’re going fast, we wish we could go faster. In fact, maybe amphetamines aren’t called ‘speed’ because they speed you up (spoiler: they do), but because no matter how much you get, you always want more. And, speed is one of those words we misuse. Having speed and being fast are two different things. We tend to conflate them. Very slow is a speed. I’ve been there to confirm. Very fast is relative, unless you’re a light particle.
You wouldn’t have watched Speed and thought, “Oh, this Keanu guy has really evolved since he was in Point Break.”
I begin every day with two cups of The People’s Speed. I take mine with just a little cream, no sugar. Then I have more in the afternoon, and often wish I could drink even more after dinner, but you know, there are limits to my stupidity, so I only do that sometimes, which reminds me of a joke my brother used to tell: “I got a part-time job, so I could afford more cocaine, so I had the energy to get another part-time job, so I could afford more cocaine, so I had the energy to get another part-time job.”
The thing is, you’re slow. As am I. I could have cut to the chase (see what I did there) and just hit you with that out of the gate, but that would have left little room for the half-baked jokes I wrote while waiting for my mom to come out of her consultation with the oral surgeon. Taking old ladies to the doctor is my side-hustle.
We’re slow and yet we crave speed. We strain against the burgeoning acid in our muscles, the quickening breath, for what? Is there some spiritual escape velocity just there, past the end of our ability to endure? I believe there is. You do, too. Because why else would we do this thing we do? Chase after our faster friends. Sit on a wheel and then try to burst off the front for a bit, just a bit, to sit in that blessed space, seeking its enlightenment.
It’s all coming together now.
As comic philosopher James Acaster says, “Death comes to us all.” Entropy, the tendency of systems toward disorder. This simple mechanism is responsible for the unidirectional flow of time. We, as living things, represent brief eddies of order, and something deep in us, in our DNA, recognizes we’ve got a good thing going, and so we hurl ourselves forward (always forward, there is no other way) in a noble but ultimately doomed attempt to keep it together, to keep the bus from blowing up, if you will. This is why we crave speed.
What almost no one remembers is Speed 2: Cruise Control. Someone convinced Sandy Bullock this was a good idea. She wasn’t an A-list star yet. Jason Patric took the Keanu role, and Willem DeFoe sat in Dennis Hopper’s chair. That all tracks. Turns out, cruise control is not a concept to wrap a Hollywood blockbuster around. No blocks got busted. Keanu was busy that year making The Devil’s Advocate.