06 March 2009

Examined Life (2009)

The movie opens with a quote from Socrates, "The unexamined life is not worth living." That sets the stage for an hour and a half of watching/listening to big thinkers talk about big things. The film is technically about philosophy and could serve as that but it struck me more as an experiment in movie making. Similar to Richard Linklater's "Waking Life," the entire running time is taken up by various people walking/sitting and talking to the camera. But unlike Waking Life, the topics and charisma of (some of) the speakers didn't put me to sleep.

There's a lot to think about when coming out of the movie, but because of the rapid pace, you kind of lose the ideas that germinate while watching it. Thus, I took out my iPhone and started taking notes. Midway into the movie, an old lady leaned over and said that it was very distracting. Initially chastened, I put the phone away. Then I thought about it some more and decided that I should be able to take notes on my phone if I wanted to. I assumed she was bothered by the light so I dimmed the screen down to the minimum and continued note taking.

Some of the topics mused over and talked about: the moral obligation to not just avoid harming others, but also to help. From behind her rose-tinted glasses, one woman talked about how in our search for meaning, we need to have anxiety about our actions and decisions. There was someone noting the difference between religious evangelism ("be like me so I can love you properly") versus the ideal of cosmopolitian love ("be who you are and I'll love you as I love myself"). There was a discussion about being handicapped, whether it be physical or mental, and how that undermines and alters the idea of Rousseau's social contract.

The two most charismatic talkers of the group were Cornel West and Slavoj Zizek (the subject of the filmmaker's first movie). Zizek stood around in a landfill talking about ecology as the new religion, and how more alienation from the environment would be better for us. Mr. West used his particular brand of bebop charm to talk about how philosophizing is learning to die.

These are just some of things that came up in the movie, of course. Every utterance is probably worth discussion and while it's certainly interesting, I can definitely understand some people getting tired and falling asleep. Pump in some caffeine and stay awake!