Meaninglessness in Wonder Woman

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“Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.”

“Be their hero, Clark. Be their angel, be their monument, be anything they need you to be… or be none of it. You don’t owe this world a thing. You never did.”

The Raimi Spider-Man movies and Snyder’s Superman movies offer opposing takes on morality: Spider-Man (a human being with human problems and duties) is only good when he does justice to his responsibilities, while Superman (having no limits to his power and no one to be accountable to) is good when he follows his desires.

This is why no matter what he does, no matter how hard he tries, Spider-Man will always have to face the cost of his actions: It is his sacrifices in order to do what is right that makes him the good guy. Superman on the other hand, when he considers what others might think in doing stuff, or when he subjects his abilities to the whims of others (Zod and Luthor, for example) does more harm than good.

Spider-Man follows Kantian categorical imperatives (nerd): what is good is good and it is always rational to do it. Superman is a Randian egoist: what is good is good only if we really desire to do it.

A striking similarity however, and I think what makes their stories a tad simplistic at times, is that it is always clear what they have to do and who they have to fight. The questions tackled are always whether they should choose to do that thing or not, and how they should do it. And the world always hangs upon the balance with them making the choice.

This is, why Wonder Woman stands out. The movie isn’t about whether we should choose to do the right thing, as doing the right thing is a given for Diana. It’s about figuring out why should we do the right thing if the right thing seems insignificant. Wonder Woman does this by establishing Diana as a well-intentioned, capable individual who always wants to do the right thing out of both responsibility and desire and then subverting the trope of the hero getting what he desires at the end.

When doing good doesn’t make things “better”

Much of the film concerns proving to the audience that Diana will always do “the right thing” given the circumstances.

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When she desired belonging back when she was a kid, she “did the right thing” by doing what her community thinks she should do.

When she decided to step out of her comfort zone to achieve her purpose by going to Man’s World and stopping the war, she “did the right thing” by doing what gets her closer to our goal, even if it means shedding off some parts of her identity.

When she encountered what the undeniable suffering of others she “did the right thing” by coming to their aid, even if it means putting off her own agenda.

 

 

But the real drama of the story happens in the last act, where she accomplishes her goal and yet nothing changes. She didn’t get what she was promised.

Wonder Woman did all the right things according to her responsibilities (like Spider-Man), and took joy in doing so (like Superman), but the prize was absent. The War still went on. People were still dicks. Spider-Man and Superman had it easy: they at least got their reward. Diana didn’t, despite losing everything.

I personally find it more relatable as a character arc, because most of the time we know we should do good, we just can’t find a reason compelling enough to do it, especially at times we feel insignificant given the circumstances.

And this is the central question of the film: if the things we did did not yield yhe results we wanted, does that mean that those actions are worthless? Diana’s answer is no. The things we do do not matter because of the results they deserve, but because of what we believed they stand for. In our actions, we communicate the values we espoused by doing them. Sometimes they are not enough to solve the problem or change the situation, but they are important because they inspire others to rally behind a meaningful cause.

Diana may not have ended all wars by killing the General, but she has inspired her newfound friends to go above and beyond their call of duty comfort to stop the genocide of millions. She has inspired others to step up and save the day. And while in the end, she learned that stopping Ares won’t stop humans from killing each other, she learned from the actions of her friends that the capacity of human beings to sacrifice themselves and rise beyond their limitations mean that they are worth saving.

Our good actions may not yield the results they deserve. They may even mean very little to us. But even so, they can mean the world to people who pay attention to the good we are doing, and we may only save the day, but they can save the world.

This makes doing something better than doing nothing. Because while actions may not lead mathematically to desirable results, they can still inspire and move people. We just have to believe in the capacity of people to understand, and do the things needed to communicate the values we want to see in the world.

Previous superhero movies have shown us that our choices matter to the fate of the world. But Wonder Woman shows us that sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it just matters to some people. Yet, getting those people to follow our lead andthe replicate the values we fight for is at times the very thing that can win the war. Superheroes have long saved humanity on their own. What the world needs now are symbols who create more heroes. Hopefully, the film inspired many people to do something other than nothing, especially in these trying times.

Rewatching Batman v. Superman

(We could honestly end there. But I promised my Facebook friends an extended cut. If you find yourself bored after the first few paragraphs, it’s okay.)

As Wonder Woman sheds some insight on Diana’s motivations and her approach to “heroism,” we can watch Batman v. Superman in a different light. I think it is a good mental exercise when trying to learn from movies from a “cinematic universe:” isolate one character and examine his or her journey throughout the films.

This becomes difficult as Wonder Woman has only a few minutes of screentime. We don’t know what changed in her ideals between World War I and the present time. But I think we can learn a lot from comparison, and comparing Wonder Woman’s actions when she was fresh off the boat from Paradise Island to the her actions in the events leading up to the fight against Doomsday tells a lot about how her character developed.

We have learned from the Wonder Woman  movie that the Great War has shattered Diana’s assumptions on the simplicity of morality and resolving conflicts among humans. And as Batman v. Superman clearly paints a picture of a Wonder Woman who is unsurprised and unshaken with a battle between gods and monsters, it seems to suggest that for Diana, it is just another battle in an endless series of battles that is the history of “man.”

Perhaps it is because she was taken out of classical myths that she is not overwhelmed by the idea of flying men and a monster of pure rage. But even if she isn’t, it is not difficult to conclude that it might have something to do with the amount of violence and suffering she has lived through being immortal. In Batman v. Superman, we see a Diana who is burdened by sorrow, far from the idealistic and enthusiastic Diana from the beginning of Wonder Woman. It might be why she chose to live in seclusion (and I would like a film which explores Diana’s further descent into detachment). Or maybe she has remained active during the period leading up to the present, and either she was just that good at hiding it or the world wasn’t just paying attention.

But it is very likely that historical events took much toll on Diana. I can only imagine her pain for humanity during the Second World War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and the ongoing strife in the Middle East. (Disclaimer: I’m not ignorant of the actress who portrayed her’s political beliefs, but I try not to let it distract me. Shittier people have done more movies. I don’t have to like her to enjoy and learn from her films.) If that is the case, then it further emphasizes the earlier point regarding doing good things despite its futility in the grand scheme of things.

If Wonder Woman has lost her initial idealism and enthusiasm, what could possibly she still involve herself in conflict? Where can we find the drive to continue struggling to do good things in a world that refuses to thwart us with meaninglessness and suffering?

It could always be simply her ego. Our drive to do good things could just be a conscious choice out of our desire to do things. And in fairness to Martha Kent, that does not necessarily take away from the goodness of the good things that we do. Yet, I think it is barely sufficient to sustain continuous involvement, especially if you have lived for a long time and have experienced and seen a lot of bloody truths.

Doing a few good things here and there cannot be simply fueled by selfish desires. Neither do selfish desires stop us from doing bad things. Knowing that Superman, if he follows his objectivist mother and his ghost dad, could just be following his own heart in doing the good things that he does gives legitimacy to Batman’s fears in the beginning of Batman v. Superman. I would argue that Wonder Woman is not fueled by selfish intentions given that: 1.) she still finds it in her to save the day even if the situation is not new; and 2.) from what we know, she has not instead turned to abusing her power and immortality (although it does pose an edge in the museum curator job market).

Maybe she is more Spider-Man than Superman in this sense. She still answers the call to heroism because of a sense of responsibility. This would make sense to us if we consider people from our lives who have put up with som much shit and yet, still do the things they are supposed to do because of a sense of duty. We rarely ever see them happy in doing their jobs, and yet, they do it anyway. For these people, even if the desire to derive meaning or joy from the duty has been dissolved by the cost of doing things to one’s ego, time, or convenience, doing the job still matters, because it is something beyond their own well-being. The world is shitty, their job is shitty, but the job is the job and it has to be seen through.

But maybe the answer is somewhere in the middle. Maybe Wonder Woman, in spite of the meaninglessness of helping out in the grand scheme of things, has found happiness in simply helping out over and over again. Albert Camus, using the tale of Sisyphus in his illustration, calls this “embracing the absurd.” Even if our job is pushing a boulder up a hill over and over only for it to roll downhill every time, we can still find purpose and meaning in the job. The absurdity of the job becomes us. We become absurd heroes.

There is, however, another approach to the marriage between doing good things over and over out of happiness and doing them out of the sense of duty, and it is the Aristotelian concept of virtue. Because we do certain things out of habit, it reaches a point where it ceases to be an imposed duty and becomes an integral part of ourselves. And because it is part of our identity, we reasonably derive happiness from doing such things. If we always practice honesty, we become honest people. If we always seek justice, we become just. If we always answer to the call of others, we become heroes. At that point, we don’t do it because we have to, but because it feels natural to us.

Perhaps Wonder Woman has already reached this stage of so-called “eudaemonia.” But if not, I think it is a good direction to take the character towards. If Wonder Woman only ever does battle because she feels obligated despite her acquired cynicism, or because it is the only life she has ever known, or maybe even because she just feels like it, it would be interesting to see how any of these cold and depressing (although real and warranted) motivations evolve into something which gives her happiness and affirmation. That would be an interesting struggle to explore because we all face that at different points in our life: as children, as students, as employees. And people like me, who are tired of involving themselves in a painful and meaningless world but are still compelled by some inescapable itch to do so, really need it right now.

That, or Diana’s arc could just be about a more external conflict. But if it isn’t about her addressing the roots of violence and ending all senseless wars and senseless destruction, then it’s just another meaningless superhero movie where nothing changes and no one grows and nothing is learned or gained by doing anything. If I wanted that, there’s always Guardians of the Galaxy II.

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Light Pollution and Christmas

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I look around the highway as I make my way home, noticing the twinkling of Christmas lights all around.

Seeing them sparkle, I am reminded of a particular night when I lied awake by the sea underneath the sky full of stars.

There is no comparison between the beauty of nature’s stars and man’s electric imitations. It seems as if like fools, we harnessed light and kept it in bottles that we may be reminded of the beauty of the night sky.

I think it would serve us better if skyscrapers, in observing the holidays, would just turn off their lights instead of spending wastefully on decorative lighting.

All I want for Christmas now is the chance to look up the sky and wonder at the holes of divine light across the black canvas of night.

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It’s so hard to be passionate about things and find out that they mean little to other people. It feels as if you’re living in an imaginary world, where the hierarchy of importance things have are messed up. And when you’ve little self-esteem, you doubt whether they truly matter in the first place.

Made to Be Ruled: The Philosophy Behind Loki’s Plot from The Avengers

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In a particular scene from the 2012 Avengers movie, Loki lets out a profound speech about human nature, freedom and politics. “Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state?” said the god of mischief. “It is the unspoken truth of humanity: that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

Of course, not a lot of people would respond, “The Avengers” if asked what their favorite political film is. Loki’s political philosophy is hardly the film’s selling point. To be honest, I wasn’t actually very moved by this speech during the movie, I was kind of looking forward to the usual stuff people expect from summer blockbusters.

However, I wanted to write something about Plato’s The Republic, arguably the first great treatise of Western political theory and I thought Loki would be a good starting point. Particularly, I want to talk about the modern liberal worship of individual freedom, or liberty, in our society.

Needless to say, Loki is not the protagonist of the story. And I doubt whether he even means the philosophy contained in his speech (although it’s not entirely his fault, the movie had little to no intention of expounding upon Loki’s motivations). Ever since his first on-screen appearance, Loki’s desire for power has been portrayed to stem out of “childish need.” But I think this is why I found the speech so intellectually appetizing: it shows how the smartest people among us are so capable of justifying their motives and actions through profound, philosophical speeches and rhetoric, no matter how questionable those actions are morally.

Regardless of whether this was just an inconsequential expository scene to show the audience how evil Loki is, or as I would like to believe, an attempt of some Marvel writer to contribute to political discourse on modern Western ideas, it cannot be denied that Loki’s speech comes from a particular perspective on the nature of man and society.

Our Natural State

A number of thinkers about society have talked about the life of man before society. Most of them described this as “the state of nature”. Thomas Hobbes, for example, believed that before the creation of society, members of the humankind were trapped in a perpetual state of war where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” While people enjoyed absolute freedom from laws and rules, there was chaos all around as there is nothing keeping humans from stealing, killing or enslaving each other. Because there was then no greater power ruling over the population, humans were under the mercy of other humans, especially those endowed with superior natural gifts like physical strength.

So in a sense, Loki was right: freedom indeed diminishes our life’s joy “in a mad scramble for power.” In a war of one against all, peace somehow seems impossible. That is why being beings of reason, according to Hobbes and other theorists, it occurred to humans that they would be better off cooperating with each other rather than competing. And so they set up a society based on a social contract: wherein some rights are to be given up in order for most of the population to be secure. For example, the freedom to hurt another person is relegated to a small group of people (police officers or soldiers) in exchange for the notion that they will only use it to protect the rest of the community, the freedom to steal is given up in exchange for the guarantee that the government will protect one’s property and the right to property is diminished in the form of taxes for the government to exercise these duties.

Although different social contract theorists, as they are called, differ in the extent of the powers given to the body ensuring security for the greater community, they all agree that the society stems from the rational nature of human beings. That it somehow is reasonable to give up some freedom for some security. This notion exists until today. In fact, there have been a number of movies and stories which have the particular issue of just how much liberty should be given up for security.

Next time: Captain America and the Freedom-Security Dillemma

Social contract theorists, however, also differ in the kind of government they propose is best out of this origin of society. Closest to Loki’s speech is the philosophy of Hobbes which says that it is the rule of an all-powerful Sovereign which suits society best:

“The final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as hath been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants.”

This Sovereign, while possessing all political power cannot be held accountable by its citizens (aptly called subjects instead). The Sovereign rules by brute force, has the sole power of declaring war or peace, is not bound by law, has the freedom to extend rewards and honor to whomever he seems fit and other tyrannical features modern minds find hard to grasp.

Interestingly, while these attributes seem so evil to us, there was a time when absolute authority of a single person was the norm. And even today, we still espouse the desire for a leader who has the “political will” to effectively execute decisions regardless of opposition. In some ways, the value we place to strong, terrifying leaders are preserved, even as we simultaneously desire freedom and liberty in our society.

It is a curious notion, therefore, what Loki proposes: not because it is new or unthinkable, but because it seems as if he has a point. Is it natural for us to look up to a higher power who will subject us to the threat of punishment and promise of reward depending on our actions? It seems totally legitimate whenever we look at how gods are portrayed in our mythologies, even in present religions. Perhaps we were made to be ruled. Perhaps it is indeed our natural state.

The Scramble for Power and Identity

Plato, in The Republic, seems to agree with the idea that we are made to be ruled. Some of us, at least. In his treatise, he proposes by using Socrates as a mouthpiece the truth hidden in the Phoenician myth of metals: that some are born with golden souls, silver souls and bronze ones. Our identities, naturally endowed to us by the earth, determine where we should be in society. The myth is in support of the proposition that it is specialization which is the foundation of human society, and therefore, we do ourselves and society justice whenever we “mind our own business,” that is, whe we unquestioningly do the tasks society has assigned us based on our natural attributes.

Therefore, in the ideal society, Plato claims, there is a class which rules and the class which is ruled. The class which is ruled is the producing class: the artisans, farmers, fisherfolk, among others, and the class which rules is the class of the Guardians. They rule through a third class: the class of soldiers which are called “auxillaries”, the appendages of the Guardian’s power.

While it seems as if this power structure is inherently oppressive, it seems to solve one of life’s greatest existential problems: it dismisses man’s endless search for identity, one’s place in the world. The modern liberal mind is not a stranger to this problem. In our society, there’s always this pressure to “find one’s self.” And we are made to believe that it has nothing to do with the society around us. I frankly disagree. Philosophers have asked about the meaning of life since time immemorial, but it is only in the rise of industrialization and democratization that whether life has meaning at all. It seems as if democracy and technological advancement has led us to a point where we can do almost anything we like. In fact, the range of things we can do is so wide that we don’t know what we need to do to actually fulfill ourselves. College students know what I’m talking about.

This is what makes Loki’s version of society seem beneficial: the will of a higher power imposed upon us largely simplifies our lives. It acquits us of the unbearable weight of responsibility freedom puts upon our shoulders. Most of the decisions which would shape our lives, if not all, are decided for us. We are free from thinking about a lot of things and are thus also free from the guilt wrong choices would bring us (though not the possible suffering which comes with it).

It also frees us from the burden of always wanting to be in control, as there are specific people whose job it is to keep things in their proper order. As to what degree the influence of such people have in our lives, though is another thing. However, in a society of strict hierarchy in political power, it is clear that we are secure in the most complete sense of the word. We are secure because most of the power which enables others to hurt us, and us to hurt them, is removed.

This is also the defense of most tyrants featured in dystopian novels and movies.

Made to Be Ruled

So were we made to be ruled? Is freedom a lie? It seems as if I’ve spent a lot of words saying that we are and it is. But rather than talking about my side of the argument, I would just present things we could think about in answering these questions.

First, I think The Republic does not only talk about the ideal society when it presented the idea of three classes: the ruling class, the appendage of the ruling class, and the ruled class. There are perspectives which contend that modern society also comprises of these components. Some Marxists, for example, would liken this threefold distinction to how capitalist society works: there is the class which has the ruling interest (the bourgeoisie), the class which is oppressed for the sake of this interests, which is also incidentally the producing class (the proletariat), and the set of institutions put in place to oppress them (the State, or the government). This is not a dystopian society from some novel, but our own present society. In saying, therefore, that we are free because we do not live in an autocratic or authoritarian society may not really be the case. We may be less free than we think. We may not need tyrants like Loki for us to be enslaved.

Next, while we may be iffy about talking about less freedom when it is in the context of national politics and social justice, some of us express the desire to be ruled in other realms. Christians and Muslims, among other religions, profess their desire to be dominated by a Deity’s supreme will in their faith. Our statements about love also seem to highlight a certain willingness and want to be subjected by another’s will. For example, Kundera, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, presents the desire to be dominated sexually as inherent in our humanity. While we may be reluctant to accept the notion that we were naturally ordained to be ruled, and furthermore, that deep down we really want to be overpowered, there are still cases where we express the converse.

Finally, we must reflect on how we think about hierarchy: rarely do most of us talk about abolishing the system which makes up our daily lives. Perhaps this too is an oppressive illusion implanted upon us by ideological institutions. Even so, whenever we speak about making society better, we talk about changing the rules in place rather than demolishing them altogether; we speak about changing the people or the interests which govern us rather than abandoning the concept of government altogether.

Hierarchy, it seems, cannot be done away with. Our reason does not permit it. And as this is so, this may point out to the fact that deep inside each of us lie the indestructible belief that there must be something above us all in order for us to live harmoniously: though it may not be necessarily a person, but a set of standards which sustain themselves without relying on brute force or strength, like morality or standards of justice. This is perhaps why we associate arrogance and entitledness to characters like Loki, because in their assumption that they deserve to rule above all else, they equate themselves to the standard of justice and righteousness which all assume should prevail above all things and above all people.

Maybe.

 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Loving As We Are

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is, without any hesitation, my favorite film. For us to watch it in class and make a review of it is more a blessing than a task. I have been putting off reviewing it for a long time.

The most beautiful thing about it is the fact that its beauty is multi-faceted, almost inexhaustible. There are just so many layers to it and therefore, so many things to be learned from it. It is a hopeful, tragic love story. It is an inquiry to the human mind. It is a letter to science. It is an insight to the human experience.

At the surface, it shows the seemingly overused theme of how love prevails. It prevails over time, circumstances and personal burdens. It prevails over adversary: internal and external. It is a classic trope. In fact, don’t all good movies show that? It perhaps does not give justice to the film to reduce it to a story about how “love prevails.” But if we gain a deeper understanding of what love is and how it prevails, it may be just the review that it needs.

First, however, we digress by looking at it from the Cartesian dualist paradigm (which is the assignment at hand). Looking deeper into the film, we can see an element of Cartesian dualism with regards to how we exist and function as human beings. Descartes believed that there is a divide between the body and the soul, that while we are indeed both soul and body, the body is something external rather than internal. It may be seen in how it degrades as the mind improves through time. It may also be deduced from how some physical urges are beyond our human will, an aspect of humanity which may be more attributed to the mind than the body.

Joel and Clementine, as well as other participants in the Lacuna process, are embodiments of this theme. We spend the entirety of the film inside projection of Joel’s thought processes which he cannot entirely control but merely observe. It is as if Joel’s brain, apart from his mind which responds to the process with emotions of regret, happiness and anger, is a whole different world: a world which, much like ours controlled and manipulated by machinery.

The film, beyond its insights on love and romance, gives us an impression of how we, or at least those who are ardent believers of scientism, view technology and science: they are tools for subjugating nature. And the brain and its thought processes, being part of nature and subject to its rule, can be dominated as well through these means. Through technology, we can manipulate our thoughts, rid ourselves of bad memories and leave rays of eternal sunshine, rendering our minds spotless slates of good and tolerable thoughts.

However, inside the film is also a crtique of this belief. As Dr. Howard Mierzwiak in the film described, the process is “technically brain damage.” Within the film we see the recognition that while technology has endowed us the ability to dominate nature, what we do is in fact perverting it technically. As we manipulate trees by first cutting them down, or cook animals by first killing them, it is by damaging our humanity that we gain control over it.

This is what makes the character of Mary important: she was the one who realized that there is much cost in tampering with the brain and the memories it houses. By giving back the mementos to the patients, she hoped to restore the sanity which precluded pain and bad memories to people like her. In the case of Joel and Clementine, it provided for a chance for them to confront the reality of change and accept each other’s flaws: a epiphany which could not have been possible in a world where we can rid ourselves of memories we don’t fancy.

The movie provides a clear view of how knowledge is presumed to be acquired in a world of science: memories and emotions are triggered internally by association to external objects (another manifestation of the Cartesian dualism) and once those links have been removed, the memories and emotions die away. There is an element of positivism: it is by removing the conscious observer from the observed as far away as possible that the observed, becoming obscure beyond comprehension, becomes irrelevant.

Yet in the end it provides a critique to the paradigm: the thought process, which still exists inside a real independent world, cannot be manipulated independent from the external world. If the universe operates in a way which cares not for the pain we feel, if it moves us forward regardless of our emotions, it will have its way whether we quit halfway through. Joel and Clementine will still end up together, no matter if they find escape in brain damage. It is simple and romantic, and yet tragic and complex: how souls are structurally ordained (in this case, by the story) to be together regardless of how much pain they have caused to each other. And while they may be weeping in the night, there can be joy in the morning.

This may relate to how we perceive life: we are not its center. We, like other things, are moved by it. And to “move” life into a road which better suits our fancy is futile. Science which yearns to manipulate is futile; we are cogs in a machine, granted with a consciousness which enables us to perceive the beauty of the gears moving together in a cosmic harmony.

And when we describe love as just that: a beautiful cosmic force which binds us and moves us in a certain way, we are bound to conclude that love, in fact, always prevails. And “to love” simply means to move as we are made, in relation with others and the world, all the way back to the force which set the gears on course. To believe this enables us to look to the future more hopefully, to the past more respectfully and to the present more realistically: without pretension or the desire to survive or dominate. Scientism, which denies us that by believing that we can move the world in a different direction, determined by us alone, is a lie which distracts us from being in awe of how the world truly works; of how in the end, we progress by merely being true to ourselves: our flaws and shortcomings as well as our perfections and potentials.

Her: Parable of A Disembodied Soul

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My girlfriend makes me do a lot of stuff. Among them is watching movies which slip through my very limited attention span. I trust her with my time though, and so far, her taste has not failed me yet.

I have recently watched the movie Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. I have found it to be both emotionally-touching and intellectually-arousing. The movie is about a man who lived in a time when technology has advanced to a point where our electronic devices are ran by operating systems (OS) which are self-aware, or have their own personal identities and consciousness. This man eventually falls in love with his OS. That, of course, raises a lot of questions. And I think that’s what makes the movie so good. The movie Her got me thinking about a lot of things: what constitutes humanity, what constitutes committed relationships, what happiness truly is about and how valuable are sincere gestures of affection, especially in a time when the boundaries of the virtual and the ‘real’ become blurred. I don’t intend to deconstruct the movie to find the answers to the questions. Even if the answers were or weren’t there, I think the movie has done its part in making us think about it. Watch the movie. I recommend it.

Anyway, a theme that stands out for me in the movie is the phenomenon of people growing apart. This, I think, is a sad and inevitable truth. The fact that we are separate individuals experiencing different things from different points of view leads us to grow more into different individuals in the passage of time. However, being human entails that we are subject to the idea of relying on other people for our needs. And that comprises of demanding that people do not change too much. In romantic relationships, for example, we choose to share our lives with partners who will be with us for better or worse. If we think about how much we can change in a given period of time, we would either realize how relationships are unrealistic and self-destructive or how important a decision entering one is.

Of course the difficulty growing apart presents is not only present in romance. Our relationships with our parents, friends, as well as our lovers are all complicated by the fact that we can’t truly and fully rely on our idea of other people as they, as well as us, are subject to change. Sometimes, even, the change in a person is so drastic and feels so unlikely to happen that we find it hard to resolve if we ever really knew that person. In such cases, we feel betrayed: we wish to have found out earlier about the things we deem to have known too late.

This is not a rare scenario. A lot of failed marriages, broken friendships and divided households are based on things a party has kept from another, be they intentional or not. This leads us to question the whole point of relationships: why trust fickle people? Why love people who are not transparent about their every flaw and imperfection until it is too late?

Here I find the importance of one of the many things which the movie communicated to me: the importance of physical presence in any relationship.

By physical presence, I do not mean how we physically appear, but rather the very act of appearing itself. And perhaps not just “appearing”, but actually being in a particular place at a particular moment physically. Some people might disagree that it is of much importance in a relationship, as people can be physically present but remain emotionally distant at the same time. I do not deny this. Perhaps most people would prefer partners, parents and friends who may not be physically there, but are emotionally and intellectually involved in their lives. But I think it cannot be denied that a simple touch of comfort and warmth can sometimes soothe our most profound sorrow easier than any combination of words may attempt. An embrace, a pat on the shoulder, a kiss: these are not to be shoved aside as unimportant. Human beings, after all, are not just souls, they are also bodies.

We are told that the universe is continually expanding. Things, by and through nature, drift away from each other farther and father apart, perhaps for eternity. The same is true with our minds. For this reason, people grow apart and become more and more different from one another. It is inescapable, yes. But I do not think that this only hinders relationships to thrive, but rather, they also provide the context in which relationships are needed. The fact that people “grow apart” is exactly why we need other people. the more other people become alien to us, the more they may complement us in our inferiority, in the same way we complement theirs. Experiences we spend together, while turning us into different people as we may perceive them differently, also enable us to realize where we stand and where we are needed in the lives of other people. So Woody Allen was right: a large part of succeeding in life, as well as in relationships, is merely showing up. Love, for the most part, is simply being there.

The presence of the people we love: the fact that they are with us, though their minds might be fixed someplace else or their hearts might be feeling things other than genuine love for us is a valuable thing, especially when we consider that they can leave anytime. The fact that they choose to stay and grace us with their bodies is what makes relationships so valuable. They are sacrificing moments and time they can never take back. And somehow, that is more valuable, I think, than having someone who “wishes you well” but is really absent. Or who cries for you when you are sad, but is never there to wipe your tears. We don’t need mere audiences. We need love.

Physical presence is what we may cling to when they seem to be grow farther and farther from our first impressions of them. This is what Samantha could not offer Theodore in the movie even if she tried: the assurance of growing old together. Our bodies are equally as important as our minds and hearts in entering a relationship, as their presence signify the choice to stay and, although one may grow apart from the other no matter how near they may be in proximity, grow old and wear out with another.

We are trapped in time. And experiencing different experiences, knowing different pieces of wisdom at different paces, our minds can go an infinite distance from each other. We cannot help but move farther away from everyone else. But our bodies, we can control. While separating us from one another’s identity, our bodies also enable us to express our longing and desire to be one with another. It may sometimes be hard to control, but it is the only thing we are capable of controlling. And through controlling it right, we are able to inhabit the moment with the people we love, with eyes fixed on theirs, even as our minds drift away farther and farther from them. They can at least rely on our bodies being there, wasting away with them.

Immovable and Fragile Objects in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

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Murderlands

The most significant similarity between the Igbo and Filipino culture is that they are both either dead or a parody of what they once were before.

Of course there are striking similarities such as the commodification of women which people often mistaken for respect, women are only valued for their function in society in both cultures (or perhaps I am exaggerating). Masculinity is affirmed in the rituals and invoked, as if resembling manly features automatically makes an act right.

In both cultures, spirituality is part of nature, and both human societies organize their ranks in imitating nature and the will of their ancestors who are one with it.

But the similarities are not only present in the pre-colonial past. In their depictions in contemporary, post-colonial times, they are portrayed by Westerners, and sometimes by the people themselves who can no longer identify with their old culture as parodies, exaggerations and overplay their eccentricities and exoticism.

Thus is the reality of pre-colonial culture in post-colonial times. And it is through this lens that we may say that the culture has died. The original essence has gone, though some finer details resemble them. The ends are different: what was once done in respect for tradition is now done for the sake of profit. Tourism, rather than the preservation of heritage, is the end.

In this sense, it may be said that the colonizers have altered the culture of their colonies beyond repair. As the poem goes, things have fallen apart. And like a mirror, even if the people of the now put them back together, they can never reflect the light of the ages as it did before culture fell apart.

In all this however, we see a significant character which shows us what happens amidst the falling apart of things, when some refuse to be moved by change. This character is Okonkwo.

Because of his eccenticities and atrocities, we are inclined to ask whether Okonkwo was the story’s hero or villain. The most obvious answer, of course, is that he is a hero. He is made known to the reader from the beginning of the novel. And while he has attitudes and beliefs which make him hard to sympathize with (thus, making him more accurately an antihero), he is the character whom we watch developing (or not developing) throughout the story.

But arguments can be made from the other side as well. Firstly, rather than “saving the cat,” a trope wherein the antihero does an act deemed “good” to make him more sympathizing, he literally wrestles a cat, Amalinze. This probably is supposed to signify the differences in culture between the Western colonizers and the Umuofians, wherein one can see an act admirable while another can’t.
It holds however that Okonkwo remains the main character of the story. And thus, if we so humbly allow ourselves to be, mirror who we are in reality.

Okonkwo  was never a representative of his culture, or at least, not deliberately from his part. He has time and again been seen as manipulating the interpretation of their traditions and practice to forward his own agenda, which most of the time involves reaffirming his masculinity. He is not, then, that much of an original character. Most of us are guilty of only subjecting ourselves to tradition when it suits our fancy. And this, I think, is Okonkwo’s strength and fatal flaw.

Okonkwo is more realistically a representative of the hubris and pride fostered by being a privileged member of society. In his fear of societal disregard built from his experience with his father, he has engaged in acts of valor and bravery, and has thus earned his due. All his life he has lived for that and that alone. And so, when society finally turned its back on the values he has fought so hard to emanate, his proud heart refuses to give in and start from scratch. He saw suicide as the only cop out: who cares if it was deemed feminine? Masculinity was never the issue. The issue was acceptance and reverence, and since he has been estranged from his society, like a lost falcon estranged from its falconer, what he does means nothing now.

The tragic hero of the novel is the realization of what happens when an unstoppable change meets an immovable object: one of them falls apart. In this case, unfortunately for Okonkwo, the unstoppable force won.