Saturday, March 4, 2017

Learning Dispatch - March 3rd, 2017 - Watching Arrival and Collateral Beauty

Why the dispatch? - I want to understand how we can make our learning more social. I love having conversations with friends and colleagues about new things we have learned. So these dispatches are part of an effort to get those conversations started.

In the movie, ‘Collateral Beauty’ (watch the trailer here), the protagonist, Howard Inlet (Will Smith) is a successful advertising executive. The movie starts with this statement by Howard,

‘What is your why? Why did you get out of bed this morning? Why did you eat what you ate? Why did you wear what you wore? Why did you come here?….The big why. We are certainly not here to just sell chit. We are here to connect. Life is about people. Advertising is about illuminating how our products and services will illuminate people’s lives. Now how do we do that? Love, Time, Death. Now these three abstractions connect every single human being on earth. Every thing that we covet. Every thing that we fear not having. Everything that we ultimately end up buying. Because at the end of the day, we long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death.’

The scene then shifts to a time period three years in the future. Howard is now divorced and his 6 year old daughter has passed away. He is not able to focus on his work and this leads to lots of problems at his workplace. During this time he writes letters to the abstract ideas of Love, Time and Death. His partners at the agency are worried. They hire three actors and a private investigator to prove his instability with regards to his mental health. These actors meet him as Human Representations of Love, Time and Death. The private investigator plans to record his interactions with these actors to document instances of his mental instability.

In the movie, ‘Arrival’ (watch the trailer here), 12 alien spaceships decide to pay planet earth a visit. They park themselves at 12 different points around the planet. Each country where the spaceship has landed launches an independent investigation into tackling these visitors. 

But as expected, these countries refuse to share information with each other about their independent interactions with the spaceship. One country wants to attack the ship, one country wants to have a conversation with the ship. But none of these countries are really sure, why the space ships have landed on planet earth. So one country decides to hire the services of a Linguistics Professor (Amy Adams) and a Theoretical Physicist (Jeremy Renner). The Linguistics Professor, Dr. Louise Banks is allowed to interact with this alien species and she notices that they have a language very different from ours. They communicate using complicated circular symbols.  

The humans call this alien species, ‘Heptapods’. Dr Louise tries to decipher their language and soon realizes that they are not here to attack the planet but are here to offer the planet a gift. The gift is their special language that changes an individual’s perception of time. Dr. Louise decodes the language and is now able to change her perception of time and see far into the future and also see far into the past. She communicates the necessary information to the human leaders, unites them in their quest to address the alien visit and soon the twelve spacecrafts then disasters from earth. 

Throughout the movie, Louise is seen getting flashbacks about her life from start to finish because she understands this new alien language. She is able to see into the future and observes that she will have a daughter with the theoretical physicist she met at Spaceship Investigation Centre but her daughter will be diagnosed with a rare disease and will die young. Her husband, the theoretical physicist will leave her because of this incident. She then asks herself, ‘Will you change your life if you knew what would happen from scratch to finish?’ She now has a choice, should she endure this future that is not very pleasant or should she change it now that she knows how it will end. She decides to choose the latter. She decides to accept this painful future and not change life even if it brings her pain and sorrow. In this way she exercises her free will, by not affecting the outcome of future events even though she has the power to do so. 

So What?

This question also the name of a Miles Davis Classic (that you should listen to here), is one I often ask myself after reading a good book or watching a good film. I answer this question with these statements,

It was nice
You should watch it
The effects were so good
I so connected with the central character

While watching these films over the weekend, I decided to take another approach. I asked myself more specific questions. How did these movies make you feel? What did it make you think about? How did it make you re-engage with your understanding of some of the central motifs and themes it deals with in its narrative structure? Why did you connect with the story of the central character?

Love. About young love. About old love. About why we love. About who we love. Keira Knightley the human representation of love in ‘Collateral Beauty’ speaks for herself saying that, ‘We never get to choose who we love or who loves us back. That means you are powerless to me as long as you are alive because I am the fabric of life. I am within you. I am within everything.’ But what is love. I love my father. I love traveling. I love listening to jazz. I love her. These things are part of my identity. They are part of who I am? But I still don’t know what this feeling really is. It is definitely not only physical and emotional intimacy. I love things too. I don’t like being around these things all the time. But I love them nonetheless. Is it about comfort. But the people I love make me feel uncomfortable too. I still don’t understand love 

Time. It is always in a hurry. There is never enough time. Finish school. Finish work. Get married. Start a family. Stay fit. Travel. Be successful. You have 24 hours in a day. That never seems to be enough. You sleep for 8 hours, work for 10 hours, and then squeeze everything else you want to do in your life into the remaining 6 hours. Often you end your day thinking you could have done so much more with your time. If I manage to stay alive for 80 years, I will be alive for around 4171 weeks. If I’m 23, I have only 2972 weeks left. This means that I have only 2972 weekends left to do all the things I want to do. No. There are so many books to read, movies to watch, people to meet, places to travel to, music to listen to, food to eat, things to experience. What if I don’t have enough time? Where do I get started?

Death. I remember listening to the New Yorker columnist, Atul Gawande once say that there are over 6,000 ways our body can malfunction and there are over 4,000 medical interventions we have created (surgery and drugs) to treat these malfunctioning body parts. Wow. So I can have a healthy kidney. The most functional kidney in the whole world. But if my heart is at 75% then I still lose. It doesn’t matter how strong my kidney is, if my heart does not perform it’s role to its full potential. I work for eight hours a day. These body parts have a 24 hour shift. I’m 23. Each year has 365 days. Man that is a lot of work. And I complain about having only two days off every week. I don’t help my cause when I don’t sleep well, eat unhealthy, smoke or do drugs. I mean all that matters to me in that moment is to end my day well. I don’t really care how these activities affect the well being of my body parts on a daily basis in the long run. The other day I was reading through an anatomy textbook, and I came across these parts in my body, that I didn’t even know existed. Woah! These things do these important functions to keep me alive and I don’t even acknowledge their presence. So much for being grateful. Why shouldn’t they malfunction. I mean people get angry if you don’t call them once a day. Imagine ignoring something for 20 or 30 years? I’d start malfunctioning if somebody ignored me for a week. 

So What? 

I need to start noticing the collateral beauty of life. Maybe I have still not arrived. 

3rd March 2017

No comments:

Post a Comment