Ship of Theseus (The Film): A Philosophical Exploration
Ship of Theseus:
After a long long time there comes a movie which is intellectually stimulating & which stays with you beyond the 2.5 hrs in the movie theatre. It makes you think and think and think……… ‘Ship of Theseus’ by Anand Gandhi belongs to this rare category.
The intrigue of this movie starts with the title itself, ‘Ship of Theseus’ also called ‘Theseus Paradox’.
The paradox engages in the idea of identity: “If parts of an object are replaced with similar parts, does it remain the same?” (In ancient times, there was a ship, called the “Theseus” after its famous former owner. As the years wore on, the Theseus started getting weak and creaky. The old boards were removed, put into a warehouse, and replaced with new ones. Then, the masts started tottering, and soon they, too, were warehoused and replaced. And in this way, after fifty years, this ship now has all new boards, masts, and everything. The question then arises: Is the ship in the harbor, now called S2, the same ship as the ship that was in the harbor, fifty years ago (called S1, for convenience)? In other words, is S2really the “Theseus”?~ Wikipedia). A simplified way to express the same thought is ‘George Washington’s Hammer’: A guy is admiring a hammer at an antique shop, he is informed by the dealer that it belongs to George Washington, so the guy says it’s in a pretty good condition considering it’s rather old age to which the dealer says sincerely, why should it not be considering he had replaced it’s head twice n it’s handle thrice. 😀
The film also refers to ethical issues brought out by applying the Theseus paradox to human beings, “All the cells in a person’s body regenerate entirely in seven years. An individual goes through a shift psychologically, ideologically and physically. Is it still the same person?”
Main theme is the theme of identity…or what makes Me, Me? What makes You, You? What makes Us, Us?? If some of our organs are replaced we are still the same person. That means we are something more than the sum total of our body parts..who are we then? Are we our thoughts? But even the thoughts theory is not satisfactory ‘cos as I look back on my life most of my thoughts n behavior patterns have changed totally. I have transitioned from a shy teenager to a confident Professional to a laid-back oops a hard working 😉 housewife and yet I am the same person that I used to be!! Even my passions have changed completely. Earlier I was a bookworm, then I became a travel enthusiast & a fashionista, now I’m more into cooking n yoga etc..yet I remain the same person! This thought is mind boggling to me at this moment. This argument builds a strong case for the existence of a Soul. Despite the changes in physiology n psyche it is the soul that provides continuum to a living object as a single identity. (Ask yourself this one. I was born John Doe.<Insert your own name in place of John Doe> The cells and organs in our body die off and become entirely new cells every 7-10 years. In essence, I become an entirely new person every decade. At age 80, am I still John Doe? Am I still that tiny infant? Some would argue no, but following my line of prior reason, we are ourselves for our entire life, because of emotional memory.)
Several other themes like Atheism, Ethics, Compassion, Vegetarianism, limits of human goodness, Death, Soul, Reincarnation etc. are explored.
The movie comprises of 3 stories which are beautifully weaved together as the movie approaches its end. The first story is the story of a blind photographer n how her Art changes as she regains her vision. Is she a different person with eyes than what she was before?(“A frog once asked a centipede how is it able to walk on a hundred feet, so gracefully synchronized while the frog finds it difficult to manage even two. The centipede took a moment to analyze its own walk and was baffled. So as it tried to walk further its feet got entangled and it tripped.” – Aliya in Ship of Theseus)
The second story is about Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi) ,an Urbane, suave, good-natured, rational, compassionate, atheist monk!, as he faces the dilemma of choosing between his ethics (compassion towards all living beings n not just human being) and his very life. The Philosophy of the Monk is Brilliantly captured in the Song ‘Naham Janami’ . This is the Quintessential Atheist Anthem. By large Atheists are a misunderstood lot. We are accused of behaving as we please in the absence of fear of God. But Atheist Ethics are stronger than blind faith ‘cos we take responsibility for all our actions and our firm belief in ‘cause & effect’. This part has some very Cerebral & witty conversation between Maitreya & a young Lawyer Charvak . Charvak asks Maitreya a question which I too have pondered for many years. How does one reconcile the paradox of existence of soul and reincarnation without the existence of God?? Buddha too propounded that there is no God but asserted about Reincarnation. Maitreya initially held Buddha’s view on the matter but later as he grew physically n emotionally exhausted he admits that he doesn’t know anything definite about the existence of soul. (Charvak:”you say you’re an atheist and at the same time you believe in the concept of soul, which I think is rather convenient. I don’t think karmic causality is a reason enough for anybody to behave ethically. You know, that there is retribution of any kind in this life or any other. It’s like a weak man’s hope for some kind of cosmic revenge.”)
(Charvak:”We invent God, soul… heaven, afterlife…even life-imitating technology, all sorts of transcendence to cope with the idea of an absolute end. And then, we die for an idea that promises us some sort of immortality.”)
(Charvak:– “Exactly. See, it’s pretty clear how inconsequential our actions are in the larger scheme of things.”
Maitreya- “Main is baat se sehmat nahi hoon. Hamaare har kaam ka prabhav karaakash mein rehte har parmanu par padta hai. Agar yeh baat sach nahi, toh phir sab nirarthak hai. What is the sense of existence then? The hedonism and nihilism of your namesake, Charvaka?”)
(Maitreya- “You see, in his world, it’s not all humanity that’s equal, it’s all existence that’s equal.”)
The third story is of Navin (Sohum Shah, also the co producer of the movie), a stockbroker, who has his kidney transplanted. He apparently loves only money & is shown doing his business even when critically ill ,as opposed to the so called finer things like music, literature et al which his Granny(Ajji) would like him to explore & appreciate. But as the narrative progresses he shows great empathy n compassion for a poor bricklayer whose kidney has been stolen.
(Navin-‘Kuch ho nahi paaya’
Ajji-‘Jitna kuch hua, kyunki tumne kuch kiya. Itna hi hota hai’)
Everything about this movie is immaculate and Superlative. The Script, Direction, Acting, Cinematography, Subtle Humor, The Underlying Philosophy, and The Very title of the Movie.
Also read about my other all time favorite movies:
- VOTE and DEMAND “Ship Of Theseus” in your city (moifightclub.wordpress.com)