Rocky Horror Absurd? by Amanda McAfee

The absurd is diverged from the “collision between the seriousness… and the perpetual possibility of regarding everything about which we are serious as arbitrary.” (Nagel, 718) There are two forms of the absurd: an absurd situation, when something diverges from the parameters of reality, and the absurd, a sense of all that we treat with seriousness as being arbitrary. The possibility that life is meaningless and all we do to minimize our suffering and prolong our survival do not merit on a “geological time scale, let alone a cosmic one.” (Nagel, 716)

Nagel outlines three responses to an absurd situation: modify ones aspirations, remove themselves from the situation or “bring reality into better accord” with their aspirations. (Nagel, 718) The comedy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975, USA) is Brad and Janet’s inability and failure to achieve any of these, from Brads stoicism while the Transylvanians strip them of their clothing to Janet’s insistence that they leave.

There is an economy of sloth and energy and as supply inputs and action driven by impulse, without self-consciousness, or prudence, cost benefit analysis of choices. Brad and Janet’s utility, the manner in which they weigh consequences, errs more to the side of impulse the longer they are in the mansion. Effectively they become more like the mouse, as they frantically attempt to survive in this new world that does not adhere to their reality.

There could be a higher power on Transsexual or in Transylvania that justifies this absurd world, Frank N. Furter’s mansion, and why Brad and Janet have car troubles in the first place. This would absolve Brad and Janet of finding seriousness in the mundane, desire to marry, or deeming that which they regard as serious to be arbitrary, effectively removing doubt. The Narrator’s parting insinuate that the human race has been lost to meaning and we are left to wonder how Brad, Janet, and Dr. Scott will return to the mundane world.

Thomas Nagel, “The Absurd,” The Journal of Philosophy 68:20 (1971), 716-727.


  1. All the things that Brad and Janet see as significant in their lives are shown to be arbitrary in the Frank N. Further’s mansion. This supports Nagel’s analysis as Brad and Janet feel absurd and struggle to find meaning in this new world.

  2. It is funny how the film puts Brad and Janet’s lives into perspective through the space they are in. It is not even that the world in general has changed, but that they’ve entered a new one; a new space in which the same rules simply do not apply. I feel like other films, such as High-Rise (2015) do something similar (in this case, it is also a building that gives rise to situations that otherwise wouldn’t happen outside).

  3. One way of reading this film could be that because the inhabitants of the mansion are from another planet, they have the ability to look at human life from an outside perspective, and can see that when we take ourselves too seriously (as Brad and Janet do), we are being gratuitous. Their awareness of this fact clashes with Brad and Janet’s seriousness, leading to absurdity.

  4. Do you think then, that the movie is a praise of the absurd, or a warning of it. As you say the narrator insinuates that meaning distracts us from the absurd, yet Brad and Janet are left on Earth and the Transylvanian’s leave to go home returning to order on both fronts. Which do you think the movie favours?

  5. Nothing is more absurd, in my opinion, than Rocky Horror. This epicenter of strange that is Transsexual could not be further from what we would describe as “normal.” Do you think these characters could be driven by their own desires however, as absurd as they may be, to fit into the new reality instead of outside forces?

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