Friday, April 24, 2009
Don't Just Read This
I was finally depressed enough to watch "21 Grams" last night. To get in the right mood, I watched "Synedoche, NY", too.
I have questions. About life.
First, let me say they're both great films. I am a confirmed Charlie Kaufman groupie, but I wouldn't say one is better than the other. They're both insightful, touching films done in an interesting way. And there is a common thread between them. They're examinations of life, what it means, and what connects us all, as well as what keeps us apart.
The message I got from "21 Grams" is that life can turn in an instant, that each choice we make has a million consequences that we can't foresee. Sean Penn's character got a second chance and he made a new life with it. Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Torro were blasted out of their lives by an accident - and until each of them could feel they'd actively been involved and acted in response to it, they were paralyzed. It was disturbing to see just how quickly a person can disintegrate once he or she is swept under the tidal wave of random tragedy. Given a sense of control, that person can just as quickly begin to live again.
Are we living that tenuously? And what does that mean for the people who have lost so much in this recession/depression? Do we really understand the emotional cost of losing your job, your home, your retirement savings?
Then there's "Synedoche, NY". It's a term, I now know, not just a word that sounds like Schenectady. Understanding one part as a way of understanding the whole. And that's what we're shown through Philip Seymour Hoffman's character. By watching him try to understand life by recreating it, we see the universal confusion, the universal disillusionment, the universal disconnect. We watch Hoffman watch actors playing out his life, finally watching him become an actor in his own play, following the direction of an unseen voice.
"Is it about the futility of life?" KB wondered afterwards. I think it is, but it's more. It's about how important and simultaneously meaningless our lives are, a fact that we ignore - perhaps because we can't fathom it.
So we're all just "little people" wandering through our so-brief existences, trying to make meaning of something and looking for non-existent answers? That view should upset me, but it's strangely inspiring - doesn't that mean anything is possible? That we are free to make this experience whatever we choose and when our part in the play is over the spotlight goes out on us but other equally central yet insignificant characters continue the show?
Is there something liberating about knowing we don't really matter, yet we do?
I think there might be, because knowing that requires us to acknowledge that we are no more or less important than the other players in this show...and that each of us is capable of doing anything. There is no stage direction.
So why are we choosing to connect only remotely? We Twitter, we Facebook, we MySpace, we update our friends and family by email. Too many of us literally update the world when we go to work, have a cup of coffee, make dinner. "Tired - headed to bed now," we write. We actually say goodnight to the virtual world.
I sit here, alone in a quiet room, and ponder the ideas raised by movies I've seen, knowing that people I've never met all over the world will read what I write. Why?
Our teenagers text, sext and hook up without making connections. Our children play video games instead of stickball.
I love the virtual community for the understanding it can promote. But I hate that we're using it to replace real communication.
I'm happy to know you read this. I think it's important to wonder about the big issues. But I don't want us to stop here. I want you to sit down with other people and start a conversation. "I read this thing," you can say. "This woman was wondering what life was all about and I thought..." Finish the sentence. There is no right or wrong choice - just your opinion. But what is important is for you to think about what YOU think, then sit down with other human beings and find out what THEY think. Ask kids what they think. Ask old people. Ask someone you love. Or don't talk about this at all. Talk about something else that really interests you, that you wonder about. But talk - and then listen. That's connecting. And that is important.