Zen and The Art of Enlightenment

January 5, 2008 at 3:35 am (Movies)

I still haven’t divested myself from Winter’s nostalgia, and nothing can really bring meaningful glances into space or a warmed mind and heart like this film.

I ♥ Huckabees

This is one of those movies that legitimately influenced me. Not my writing, not my taste, but my person, my self. Let me explain. (because talking when no one listens is crazily ranting. Blogging does not require the permission of an audience. Most of the time.)

It has a nice cover on its DVD, too

In the movie, Albert Markovski feels a need for a personal change. He seeks out the help of existential detectives, who then present to him a sugar coated philosophy of human interconnectivity.

Another character is shown as advancing through the curriculum of the existential detectives (I love the idea of existential detectives. Finally, authors and mythologists receive commissions!), but he has progressed to nihilism and depression to the dismay of his existential detectives, to the thought of everyone as completely separate beings without any interpendance at all. He’s past the sugar coated philosophy of Dustin Hoffman (with whom my dad is said to share a striking resemblance).

There is a clear attempt at a dichotomy going on here. There’s the interdependence of man thought, and there’s the noninterdependence of man thought. There’s the optimistic individual undergoing a personal transformation, and there’s the pessimistic. Both sides of the spectrum are represented here, and it’s needless to say that even more contrasts arise in the movie.

That isn’t all that there is in the movie, though. There’s also Jude Law’s character, Brad Stand, who’s a successful businessman. This is someone without any need for the inner turmoil prompting the commissioning of existential detectives. He is the hopeful product of the existential detective service.

But he isn’t. Halfway through the film, he undergoes a similar event necessitating self conscious. I wasn’t being myself, he shouts when an explanation for his actions is demanded. How am I not myself?, the two detectives respond. How is he not himself?

Later, he learns that he actually was himself, despite his carefully established identity (he owns a business based on his image, which would absolutely crumble if that was his actual self: the maintenance of his identity has much more at stake).

This is no dichotomy, I thought, it’s the solution to the biramous dilemmas plaguing intelligent, self-conscious individuals. It’s a triangle! We’re seeing a person as the product of two opposing identities, and not having to conform to either, of forging a new, individual self out of two ideas. Of creating a new identity in the middle of two points, thrown as far away as possible from the projected individual’s philosophy to steer him away from completely espousing only one philosophy. A man doesn’t have to operate from either spectrum, but it’s even worse than that: he can’t be on either opposing philosophical end, because they’re both so extreme!

This was a moment of sartori for me at the time. It revealed all dichotomies as false: They’re always triptychs where the third image is forged throughout a man’s life! Dichotomies are a poor man’s lotto, where a self can hopefully fit into an extreme!

There’s a beautiful scene in the film illustrating this. The dismayed, pessimistic client of the existential detectives talks with Dustin Hoffman‘s character about reality. You can never really touch anyone else, he says, because atoms of air will always separate you, he says. But even deeper, down past those atoms, are protons, electrons, and neutrons, able to touch the next person’s atom. But even deeper past those are even smaller quarks dividing you and the person next to you. But even deeper still…

You can either believe that you’re touching the person next to you, or you can believe that you aren’t: both statements are wrong, both are correct, depending on your proof.

The characters in the story come to the same revelation at the end, that neither philosophy is inherently correct and the other wrong, and that they belong to neither. The existential detectives shouldn’t be unhappy that the pessimistic philosophy was found, that’s how the interdependence theory was fortified, I thought, by proving that both exist. And who wants to be sad instead of happy?

Also, unknown to me when I saw it first, the movie instantly shows the loss of the ego, of losing the doors of perception at this point. Both stringent philosophies (and, thus, all philosophies in general, because the mind changes) are wrong and correct, depending on where and how you look.

Then at the end, the philosopher with the pessimistic viewpoint shows up and talks amiably with the existential detectives during the big denouement! Those sly dogs, they planned all this! And the movie, it deals with the same themes of soul searching just like the existential detectives, as presenting soul searching as incredibly necessary, then horribly misinformed, and then with a respect for the ritual. There’s a scene of pure pleasure, of a character having sex, but all we see is the mud around him and his slowly moving pelvis, and all we hear is cheesy music. It even goes through the character arcs in a routine and indulgences in a didactic tone often. As if the directors themselves were used to how these people act and what they need.

Those sly dogs, they planned this all along! And I really feel like they did, but it doesn’t really matter. Deeper down than intent, there’s the actual effect which the movie produces. And the directors would be chatting amiably with the conservative businessman with no time for the thoughts of an effete man during my denouement if my life was a movie, regardless.

I don’t know, I’m just trying to say that I really am touching the person next to me. This movie taught me that, quarks be damned!


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