May 2014: Life and Death
Easter weekend I watched the beautifully intriguing movie, The Fountain (2006), starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. It was in stark contrast to the hedonistic flare of Surviving Picasso (1996), starring Anthony Hopkins, viewed the night before. To my surprise, Picasso was adept at manipulating and using people for his own purpose and pleasure. He would discard people as easily as an undesirable painting. And yet, many of his team of attendants were with him for decades. It was a bizarre tale of loyalty and obsession. Until one of his mistresses broke the mold and set herself free. It is from her viewpoint that the story of Picasso unfolds.
The Fountain is also a tale of loyalty and obsession. Obsessed with fighting death, the main character misses out on living life to the very last minute with the woman he loves and adores—the whole reason he is fighting death (finding a cure) is to keep her with him longer. In an ironic twist, his selfishness and focus to not lose the one he loves robs him of cherished last moments. Makes a person think a little deeper about life and death—and that we cannot have one without the other.
The movie takes viewers on a multidimensional journey to explore the meanings of life and death. A key theme being we cannot have life without death. Seeds must die to emerge as tiny plants that gradually grow into mature vegetation that will eventually die to nurture the soil to support more life. There is a beautiful analogy in the movie that illustrates the “life of awe” that can only come about through death.
The other concept that struck me is that life loses its meaning without death. Without the ‘threat’ of death, life becomes monotonous. Knowing life is temporary is the impetus to make the most of our time on earth. We can use that time fighting a losing battle against death; or we can make the most of our time fully engaged in relationships and making our time on earth count.
Now this is not to say that developing cures for illnesses is not making good use of our time, should one be a brilliant scientist. It is when our passions become obsessions that we lose our way. In order to live fully, we must pursue our passions. But at what point do we sabotage our own efforts? Do other people experience loss or pain (like Picasso’s tangled web of family and close associates) because we are relentless in our pursuit of pleasure or desperate attempts not to experience pain?
At what point do we declare our passionate pursuits more important than people and our closest relationships? When do our desperate attempts at pain avoidance sabotage our efforts to live more fully?
In some ways the desperate husband, about to lose his wife to a brain tumor, refuses to surrender to a higher order of things—such as life and death. He declares his time is better spent apart from her, in order to find a cure, than to spend as much time as possible with her, soaking up every lingering moment. I wonder how she felt, knowing his efforts were a symbol of his love and devotion, yet craving his support and companionship? Rather than face her fear of death with her, he lived in denial. He, of course, does eventually learn what his wife was trying to teach him about death and dying—as well as living.
Death truly does beget more life.