As with all reviews on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete overview of the book or movie; rather, it is to examine how the book or movie relates to the meaning of life.
Breakfast of Champions is a novel that was written by Kurt Vonnegut in 1973. The book revolves around the lives of three individuals, Dwayne Hoover - a Pontiac dealer, Kilgore Trout - an unknown by widely publicized author, and Kurt Vonnegut - a widely publicized and well-known author. According to Kurt, the book was written in order to clear his head of all the junk inside of it, and at many times, it does seem as if we're going through random streams of thought with no coherent, or at least, only a loosely coherent purpose. With that said, in addition to reviewing the book in this post, we will also review the movie of the same title, Breakfast of Champions, starring Bruce Willis as Dwayne Hoover, and Albert Finney as Kilgore Trout—directed by Alan Rudolph.
The Book: Chapter 1 of the book opens with the following line, This is a Tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast. Vonnegut would follow up letting us know that Dwayne had some bad chemicals going on in his head and would eventually go on a violent rampage and bite off Kilgore's figure. Hence, the entire book builds up to this, along with Kurt throwing himself into the mix as a character, creator, and even god-like figure.
One motif in both the main work, and Kilgore's fictional work, Now It Can Be Told, is that everyone in the world is a robot, and only the reader of Now It Can be Told, has freewill. Dwayne's violent rampage would commence after reading the book, and Dwayne would go on to conclude that nothing he does to anyone matters, because after all, they are all robots. Or as Kurt would put it, Everybody else was a fully automatic machine, whose purpose was to stimulate Dwayne. The bad chemicals made Dwayne so open to new suggestions about the meaning of life, that Now It Can Be Told easily convinced him that his purpose in the world was to surprise the Creator by doing interesting and random things that the Creator couldn't predict with his newfound freewill; because as per Now It Can Be Told, he was the first of his kind, the first being in the universe with freewill. The book also told Dwayne, You are pooped and demoralized. Why wouldn't you be? Of course it is exhausting, having to reason all the time in a universe which wasn't meant to be reasonable.
While Kilgore was in New York City, he was using the restroom and saw the following question written in pencil on the wall, What is the purpose of life?
of the Creator of the Universe
Kilgore took this to heart, the message really changed him. Since that point onward, he would send messages via telepathy to the Creator of the Universe about the state of affairs on Earth. Kilgore would later go on a rant on his way to Midland City, Ohio (a quasi-fictional city with many references to real locations and cities), that volcanoes, tornadoes, tidal waves, ice ages, Dutch Elm disease, etc. were all God's work, not man's. Kurt also says that he gave Kilgore a life not worth living, but an iron will to live, which was quite a common combination on this planet.
At one point in the book, Kurt would write that women were stupid on purpose, having big brains, but instead of using them, in the name of survival, decided instead to be agreeing machines. Naturally, here, Kurt is making jest of sexism in society, highlighting the stupidity of it all. However, one controversial part of the book was Kurt's repeated and frequent use of the N-Word. Was it the times, or was he trying to show irony in society, or was it something else? Some would even go on to criticize the portrayal of another character named Wayne Hoobler, an African American that had it hard in life, and spent the majority of his life in and out of jail. Kurt's portrayal of African Americans can also be viewed as a reflection of society's views at the time. It is a harsh reflection. Others point out, that books like Breakfast of Champions not only frequently use the N-Word, but also, for example, when Kurt describes any African American having sex, it is described in an animalistic way, yet this was not the same for his description of Caucasian sexual acts. It is hard to read the work through the lenses of someone living in the 2020s and not feel shocked by the language and portrayal of African Americans. His poignant portrayal of race, sex, and religion often demonstrates how divisive these issues can be to society—according to Kurt, men want to fuck everything and everyone wants gold, which is the cause of half of the world's problems.
One interesting quote, which parallels are own existence, Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast. They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement. Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne.
We of course happily drink that excrement to forget the many struggles of daily life, to feel something—to forget something, to briefly, even for a few moments to live solely in the here and now without worry or fear of the future, or to be haunted by the past—to laugh it all off—at the absurdity of it all; and of all the statements in the book, this was perhaps the most powerful (of course, I'm also a bit bias having a blog solely dedicated to exploring the meaning of life).
Readers should also beware, the book delves into topics like suicide. Kurt's mom committed suicide, so does Dwayne's wife, and Dwayne comes close to doing so a number of times.
Kurt comes to the following realization: As for myself: I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing sacred about myself or any human being, that we were all machines, doomed to collide and collide and collide. For want of anything better to do, we became fans of collisions. Sometimes I wrote well about collisions, which meant I was a writing machine in good repair. Sometimes I wrote badly, which meant I was a writing machine in bad repair. I no more harbored sacredness than did a Pontiac, a mousetrap, or a South Bend Lathe. Kurt would also go on to say that the characters of the book helped him to realize that everyone is an unwavering beam of light.
The Movie: Well it is an infamous and forgotten adaptation of the book.
If you didn't read the book, the movie likely won't make a lot of sense. It is wild, wacky, and extremely disjointed (kind of like the book, yet, the movie, because of the format, just didn't provide the depth needed for understanding like the book did).
One of the differences between the book and the film in relation to purpose and meaning, is that in the film, instead of Kilgore Trout seeing the question, What is the purpose of life? on a bathroom wall, he instead saw it on the outside of a building (we apologize about the image quality, we watched the film on VHS):
In some sense, this kind of takes away from the significance of the question, because, after all, if you ponder the question while defecating, you may in fact be closer to the true answer than at any other time in your life (kidding ... maybe). Kilgore answers the question by stating we are the eyes and ears of the creator of the universe. In the film, Dwayne is also experiencing a sort of midlife crisis, which appears to be causing his insanity, unlike the book, where Dwayne had bats in his bell tower, and had some bad chemicals in his system. At the beginning of the film, a fan of Dwayne does spill some pills in his coffee and food, which could also be the cause of his temporary insanity.
At one point in the movie, Francine, his mistress, asks Dwayne what life is about. Dwayne responds that only god knows that.
Another deviation from the book, Dwayne's wife did not kill herself. She lives but is lonely as Dwayne doesn't pay any attention to her. Towards the end, Dwayne, reading Kilgore's book, thinking it is a message to him, still goes crazy and beats up people just like in the book. But Kilgore tracks him down, tells him he is a continuing machine, and until you're dead, it's all life, make the most of it. This brings some sanity to Dwayne, he reunites with his wife (with whom he was cheating on), his son, and realizes life isn't over until it is over. In the book, Dwayne is sued by all the people he hurt, and is destined to live the rest of his life in skid row (a poor part of town).
Overall, though the movie didn't make a lot of sense and wasn't well put together. Yet, in some sense, wasn't that bad—in an odd way, even somewhat enjoyably absurd. The twist that perhaps Dwayne went on a bit of an acid-like trip, perhaps he was having a midlife crisis—or perhaps a combination of both, was interesting. Unlike the book, there is resolution, a happy ending so to speak, as Dwayne embraces his wife and son, realizing that there is still life to live, and he has to make the most of it. Sure, it absolutely makes no sense after what he did to his wife and son—but that just made us like it more. Kilgore also gets to go through a leak (mirror) and become young again. Happy endings for all, unlike the book, unlike the real world.
Overall, we rate the movie:
Overall - 6
Meaning of Life Relevance - 6
Uniqueness – 6
If you read the book or watched the movie, comment below and let us know. What did we miss—what did you like, what did you dislike? Poo-tee-weet.