September 11, 2009

Searching For Meaning

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Contemplating the concept of existence leaves room for many questions. What does it mean to exist? Is there a difference between living and being alive? What is happiness? We can define what it means to be alive, at least in the scientific sense: we breathe to pump oxygen to our hearts; we consume nutrients to keep our bodies functioning. But, in order to define the existential state of living, we must go beyond this corporal aspect, something that may require personal will and enlightenment. You, the Living a Swedish film playing at Cornell Cinema this weekend, is a somewhat surrealist attempt to illustrate “the living,” people who are alive but who tread a fine line between dream and reality, between being alive and being something else altogether. The movie attempts to answer the questions mentioned prior, and does so in a valiant attempt; yet, we walk away from the film still feeling confused about these topics, not knowing what it means to be happy or to live a fulfilling life.
The film pieces together scenes that seem disjointed, that seem to have no relation to one another but that when pondered more closely have a common theme amongst them. Many of these scenes do, in fact, have a solitary role in the film; yet, others are congruous. Some characters are reoccurring, making it seem as though there the director attempted to create a continuous narrative, to tie people together who otherwise would have no connections at all. What binds these characters together is their misery and their inability to enjoy what they have. They cannot be satisfied by what they have in life. At one point in the film, a psychiatrist addresses himself to the camera, stating that after listening to people complain about how unsatisfied they are with their lives, he has reached the conclusion that people demand too much. They demand to be happy when they are mean, egocentric and selfish. A reoccurring character in the film is a woman named Mia, who constantly complains of her miserable existence. Yet, her partner seems to always be there, following her, trying to understand. She says that no one understands her and constantly shouts at her partner to go away, claiming that she wishes she did not exist so that he would not feel guilty about liking her. This illustrates a point the psychiatrist was making when he spoke of mean people wanting to be happy. They demand so much, yet do so little. Mia indulges her pessimism and misery and does not see the kind things that other people do for her.
Another common theme in the film is the distinction between dream and reality. Several characters recount dreams they have had, and after telling these characters describe their dreams, the film then depicts the dreams as if they were real and actually occurring for the characters. In one particular scene of the film, a man named Benny, driving his cement mixer down the street, recounts a dream to the audience from the seat of his car as he idles through traffic. This dream involves a dull dinner party, where in an attempt to liven things up, he attempts to do the “cloth trick.” Essentially, he takes the table cloth and tries to remove it from an incredibly long table filled with china and other antique relics. He utterly fails, however, and winds up in court, being sentenced to death by electric chair for his gross negligence. Another character, Anna, recounts a dream where the boy she is in love with, Miche, ends up marrying her, and they spend their honeymoon in an apartment that passes by like a train, with Miche playing guitar and Anna watching him. Whereas Benny is miserable in his dream, Anna is miserable in real life, and thus the ability for the audience to draw a fine line between dream and reality becomes blurred.
A common phrase throughout the film is “Tomorrow is another day”; but what does this really mean? If tomorrow is another day, will life be less miserable for these characters? Or will it continue on, the pain, the misery, the selfish regard for one’s own problems? The film leaves this open ended. In some ways this is good, for it allows the audience to subjectively find the meaning in their own lives rather than creating an objective standard that people should live by. The film leaves us wanting more though. But, maybe that’s the point: we are insatiable and will never be happy with what we’re given. In life or in a film, we will always continue to ask ourselves these questions and never truly know the answers. The only hope is that one day, living and happiness will be as easy as it is in dreams.