Ship of Theseus (The Film): A Philosophical Exploration

 Ship of Theseus:

Ship Of Theseus

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.”)

Naham Janami

Naham Janami

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:

The Groundhog Day

Babel

Guzaarish

Peepli Live

Chalo Dilli

 

Advertisements

July 22, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , . Existentialism, Meaning of Life, Movies, Must Watch Movies, My Favorite Things, My Values, Philosophy, Reflections/Musings. 5 comments.

These are a few of my favorite things: #28 (The Hermit by Eugene Ionesco)

The Hermit by Eugene Ionesco

English: Eugene Ionesco on a ship's deck cross...

I love everything about this book, starting with the title ‘The Hermit’…the word Hermit is so beautiful n peaceful. To me it signifies one who has found value in one’s own company.

 (Great minds are like eagles, and build their nest in some lofty solitude.~Arthur Schopenauer;

Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.  ~Tillich, Paul)

I was immediately attracted to the Title of the book a couple of years back (& I reread it just now). At that time I did not in any way know about the Genius of Eugene Ionesco or that I would start loving his absurd plays.

Then there is the most wonderful opening sentence of the novel:

At thirty-five, it’s high time to quit the rat race. Assuming there is a rat race. I was sick & tired of my job. It was already late: I was fast approaching forty. If I hand’t come into unexpected inheritance I would have died of depression & boredom.

(Now it is a coincidence that I too gave up the rat race if there was any rat race for me to begin with  at 35, not that I was bored of my job…I was thoroughly enjoying my stint as a teacher but there came a time when I said to myself enough was enough…already time to quit n explore new things..the new things being doing nothing but devoting a large part of my time to thinking n philosophizing, devoting time to explore n adopt a simpler way of living, a frugal way, a Zen way, a quiet way, far from the madding crowd, far from the white noise of the society n confirmity )…so our unusual protagonist retires at 40 & devotes his time to ponder over the existential issues & the real meaning of our lives, not the superficial or mundane but the actual why n how of the human existence. He devotes his time to ponder over the nature of time, memories, death, infinity of the Universe, n such. Most people would regard him as eccentric n that is the general opinion of people towards him in the novel…sample these conversations & interactions of the narrator with various people:

~ I have a suspicion that the way I lived, the way I acted, rarely if ever going out, must have struck to her as odd. She made a number of allusions to my inactivity. According to her, I had no right to be retired in the first place. Not at my age anyway.

~Yes, that was it: they are all hostile towards me. What did they have against me? The fact that I didn’t live the way they did; that I refused to resign myself to my fate.

~She asked me questions that were vaguely indiscreet: “So it’s you again! Where are you going at this time? You always seem to be going out. And yet it’s safe to say you’re not going to work. You are lucky. Not like the rest of us.”

& the Best of all

~ I was about to drift off when Jeanne (His maid) came into the living room. As she rubbed the furniture to make it shine, she upbraided me, telling me that the life I led was unhealthy. Wasn’t I  going to buckle down & find some work for myself ? All right, so I had an inheritance. That’s no reason to sit around and do nothing all day. At least get married. Did I intend to go on living all alone like some impotent? I ought to start a family. I should have children. Man is made to have children, and there is nothing cuter than little ones underfoot. And then when they grow up and you grow old, they don’t abandon you to poverty; no, they reach out a helping hand when you need it the most. If there’s anything worse than living alone, it’s dying alone, with no one around to offer you a little milk of human kindness. I didn’t know what was in store for me. As for herself, she had a husband she didn’t get along too well, but now he was sick. They had had a child, a boy they had brought up with tender loving care, he had a heart of gold, only he had gone away and left them; he had a heart of gold, it was only because of that wife of his. They hadn’t heard from them in a long time. Apparently they had a baby. She had also had a daughter whom they had raised with similar loving care. A lovely girl. That is, she had been. But she too had a baby, only the baby had died. After that she deserted her husband. She came back home for a while, then left again, she had begun living fast n loose, from all that they had heard. Some cousins were in contact with her and kept them informed. Apparently she was on drugs. Children are ungrateful! You bleed yourself white for them, they aren’t all that easy to bring up in the first place and then when they grow up they go away and leave you, forget you: the best thing is not to have any. You’d better not count on them to show you any gratitude in the time of need.

I told her I was sure she was right. That didn’t stop her, she was still talking, with the dustrag in the right hand while she gesticulated with her left. She made me promise to marry and have children.

This conversation with Jeanne is perfectly classic Non-Sequiter dialogue in which Eugene Ionesco excels. The maid has not too good experience with her own children & yet she wants our guy to marry n have children. Somehow everyone is uncomfortable with anyone who leaves the race of conformity n who wants to live life on his/her own terms, then everyone will jump over each other n try to convince her/him to make the conventional choices no matter how badly they themselves are faring in life with their conventional/conformist choices. I too find myself on receiving end. People try to convince me that I must be bored to be staying at home all day n doing nothing since I don’t have any children either. No matter how happy I am & I look they are not convinced. How can I be happy until I am behaving like everybody else? Unless I have a fancy Job Title n a fat pay packet?

And one more thing is that people never value anything we do for it’s own sake. Not for making money but for the joy of doing the thing, like Vincent Van Goh painting his master pieces none of which sold during his life time. He said he painted for the sheer joy of painting regardless of them not selling. People can’t accept the fact that a guy wanna leave his job n focus on his inner life.

But I admire him for his ability to quit, afterall all of us know many people who crib about Monday mornings n enjoy life only on weekends n yet they can’t give up their lousy jobs ‘cos they gotta buy stuff to impress the people whom they don’t like’…that urge seems to be powerful for the masses of people.I guess it’s very easy to quit the drudgery of work if one wants to follow a simple n frugal life. Our guy (he remains unnamed in the novel) doesn’t squander money on big n fancy things like flashy car or luxury villa or such but just buys himself a modest flat where he can be with himself

I found his character intriguing in it’s aloofness. He tends not to think too much about other people. He is very much attached to his girlfriend upto the extent a person of his nature can be attached to anyone. Yet when she leaves him he has great difficulty in recalling her name…he’s always like ‘I miss Yovne or was her name Marie?!! In this sense he reminded me of another of my favorite character Meursault from ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus  (“Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.”)

 I like this novel for what goes inside the mind of the narrator. This book is not for anyone who likes suspense/thriller. I never like that kind of books where you are on tenterhooks as to what will happen next. I could not care less for a whodunit. My kind of book is that in which nothing happens…just life goes on at it’s own pace n that’s it. So no wonder I found this book extremely satisfying.

 

March 19, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Eugene Ionesco, Existentialism, Meaning of Life, My Favorite Things, My lifestyle, My Values, Philosophy, Quitting the Rat Race, Reading, Reflections/Musings, Solitude. 2 comments.

These are a few of my favorite things: #24 (Come and Go by Samuel Beckett)

These days I’m captivated by Samuel Beckett. ( Read about my other favorite play by him ‘Happy Days’  here).

His is minimalist theater. Not much happens on stage. But much happens in the viewer’s/reader’s mind. In the play ‘Come & Go‘ we see 3 ladies in bright colored coats, eyes covered with hats, sitting on a bench. From their scanty conversation we can make out that they are old friends who once attended elementary school together n in those days too they used to sit like this on a bench. They are meeting after a long time. Their names are Flo, Vi & Ru. During the course of the play, one of them leaves & other two get a chance to talk about the one who left. In this manner all three women at one point occupy the central position and all become privy to a secret about one of the others. From each response (Ru: (about Vi), “Does she not realise?” Vi: (about Flo), “Has she not been told?” Flo: (about Ru), “Does she not know?”) it is not unreasonable to assume that each is in fact terminally ill but unaware of the fact.

This human trait would be so comic, if it were not so sad. Each one is shocked by what is happening in life of the other two n being saddened by it while being blissfully unaware of their own tragic fates. Now all of us humans share the same tragic fate, such is nature of our life, but while we understand this to be a fact of our fellow humans, we royally ignore this very human condition in our own life.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in other’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)

Why are we so much interested in n fascinated by the lives of others? What is the charm of gossip in our lives?

  “You get together with a friend and talk about the faults of this person and the misdeeds of that one. Then you go on to discuss others’ mistakes and negative qualities. In the end, the two of you feel good because you’ve agreed you’re the two best people in the world.” ~Geshe Ngawang Dhargye

Wouldn’t it be better if we gave up this behavior & focus on our own lives?Though others have faults,let’s concentrate on our own.

 “Criticizing others while being unaware of their own faults is something that many people do. We can even say that it is something we all do from time to time.” ~ Derek Lin, The Tao of Daily Life,

Let the improving of our own life take up so much of our times that we don’t have time to criticize others.

March 5, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Existentialism, Reflections/Musings, Samuel Beckett. Leave a comment.

These are a few of my favorite things: #22 (Happy Days by Sameul Beckett)

Happy Days by Sameul Beckett

English: Sketch of scene in Happy Days by Samu...

Happy days is an Absurd play by Samuel Beckett who is best known for ‘Waiting for Godot’. Happy days is the story of Winnie, a woman who is trapped waist down in a mound of earth. As she begins her day she declares it to be another lovely day, a rather strange assertion for someone in her situation. She has a huge bag in which she has an assorted nick-nack of items, her toiletries, a hat, an umbrella, a revolver, etc.  Burried in a nearby mound is her husband Willie. Throughout the day Winnie keeps herself busy with her possessions in the handbag & engaging in a long monologue while Willie is busy with his newspaper n occasionally grunts in response (eh, this is how all husbands indeed are, whether in an absurd play or in real life (and there is nothing more absurd than real life after all)!! This is the situation of most married people, the wife chatters n the husband suffers her chatter,is engrossed with newspaper n grunts in response occasionally).

As the Act II of the play begins, Winnie is now buried neck deep inside the earth but continues her life in the same fashion, as optimistic as ever.What makes this play extraordinary n poignant is that the story of Winnie underlines the general human condition, it is the story of all of us. We all get stuck in certain situations in our life n we try to take it in our stride by calling it our inescapable fate. (Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.~Lemony Snicket). Despite it all  we try to resort to positive thinking n make the most of it anyways. There seems to be no other choice. This is the absurdity of our existence. And even as we keep repeating our positive mantras our lives as that of Winnie moves from bad to worse. I remember a joke which goes like this, a guy goes to an astrologer who tells him that his life will be very hard for 2 years…the guy asks will it improve after that? Nopes, says the astrologer, but you will get used to it!! So in life, nothing gets better but we learn to adjust.But the tragedy is that when we get used to our bad situation it grows even worse.

In a way we can say Winnie is trying to ignore the reality of her situation by being exuberant. This is both a good thing and a sad thing to do. Is it really wise to engage in the trivialities of contents of handbag? (in real life we are engaged in the trivialities of money, possessions, career, success while ignoring the real futility of all this, while the real issues in life are un-understood & unsorted we are like Winnie who says ‘There is of course the bag. There will always be the bag.). This is like trying to paint one’s house while it is on fire.

One more way of looking at Winnie’s predicament is realizing that sometimes in life we are not in a position to control our external environment but still we can control how we react to them & how we try best to cope up with our bleak reality. (everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.~Victor Frankl). The Title of the pay is very ironic, the situation is not called sad days! This is the way our life seems to be designed, we have to extract our happiness from our life experiences. (Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world.~Samuel Beckett)

February 25, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Existentialism, Meaning of Life, Philosophy, Reflections/Musings, Samuel Beckett. 2 comments.