I Heart Huckabees

Partially recommended with caution. I call this a philosophical farce. And that’s the only reason why I have any recommendation for it, because of its total original take (it’s about time too) on addressing philosophy in a movie – and with Tom Stoppard-like humor. Unfortunately, the story itself is rather uninteresting. Albert Markovski (played by Jason Schwartzman, all grown up since Rushmore) is a tree hugging lefty protesting against huge corporation Huckabees to keep it from plowing over a small marshland and putting up another one of its chain malls. But he’s losing control of his enviro-wacko coalition to his friend, Brad (played by Jude Law). He’s facing his own personal angst. A series of coincidences guide him to hire a husband wife team of Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, “existential detectives” who seek out meaning and purpose in people’s lives who can’t find any in the universe. They have a coincidence file on each subject. What I love about this story is how the philosophy is “in your face,” and an explicit part of the plot. Hoffman and Tomlin are “Monists” who specialize in “crisis investigation and resolution” as their business cards say. They seek to convince our hero Albert that his alienation is an illusion and that “There is not an atom in our bodies not forged in the furnace of the sun” and therefore, “There’s no such thing as you and me,” “everything is the same, even if it’s different,” because “the whole truth is, everything is connected.” Ultimately, Albert’s redemption will be his discovery that “everything you could want or be is everything you already are.” This is Eastern style self-enlightenment to our supposed deity within. But the problem is that the villain, in the form of French Nihilist writer Catarine Vauban and her disciple, played by Mark Wahlberg, is also after our hero, to try to free him from the Monists to realize that “It’s all random and cruel,” “nothing is connected, there is no meaning,” to life, “the world is temporary, identity is an illusion, and everything is meaningless.” What a riot! Two diametrically opposite philosophies battling for Albert’s soul – quite literally. Who will win? In a great metaphor for the power of death to get us thinking about life, Hoffman has Albert engage in therapy that consists of zipping up into a body bag to achieve an altered state of consciousness of sorts (sensory deprivation and all that) where he can give up “your identity that you think separates you from everything.” The Nihilist, (who should have been a German, not a Frenchwoman), lures Albert under her wing for a while and he faces his parents who “made him feel bad for feeling bad,” in other words, Sartre’s “bad faith” of not accepting one’s complete freedom from others. Well, okay, maybe the French gave us the existentialists Sartre and Camus, but The Germans gave us Nietzsche, but then again the French gave us Foucault and Derrida, the pomo stepchildren of nihilism, so I guess it’s okay for the villain to be French. In a funny scene that captures the nihilist notion of meaning through masochistic pain, Albert and Wahl hit each other with a big blow-up hippity-hop ball for kids. In the experience of pain, they receive their enlightenment that “it’s like I’m a rock or a piece of mold. I’m here, but not here.” A much tamer version of the same darker expression in Fight Club. And when Albert has sex with his French philosophical seductress (her real agenda, how revealing), it begins with an erotic forceful splashing of each other’s heads in a puddle of mud. Ah, the “absurd drama of human existence.” The witty repartee and philosophical bantering back and forth about ontology, metaphysics, “desire, suffering and pure being” is all rather clever and enjoyable for those interested in philosophy. There is a great creative scene where Hoffman debates with Wahl about their opposing ideas of monism versus atomism. As they talk, little pieces of their faces break apart and float around. Hoffman explains that all the molecules are connected and we see them flowing around, then Wahlberg says, yes, but there are spaces in between the molecules or cracks in between the floating pieces, thus reinforcing his atomism of alienation. And they go on like this down to the smallest particles that still have cracks between them. Do we accept the cracks and pain of total alienation or do we believe this is illusion and embrace our oneness with all things? There’s a great subplot where Jude Law’s Brad is enlightened to his need for redemption by realizing that he tells a funny story over and over to many people that elevates himself at the expense of famous singer Shania Twain. His redundant telling is an obvious attempt to make himself feel good so he “doesn’t have to face his depression.” Some real truth in some of this existential and monist gobbledygook. At the end, Albert, in a Forrest Gump-like climax asks if these two philosophies are working together, because it’s like they’re both “fractured philosophies that are born out of one pain,” one is too light (monism) and one is too dark (nihilism), and we are reminded of Forrest at Jenny’s grave saying, “Is life all random like, floating around like a feather or do we have a destiny? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s both at the same time.” As Albert concludes, “We’re interconnected, but it’s nothing special.” And there we have the absurdity of existential and monist philosophy, wanting to have the cake of illusion or meaninglessness and eat meaning and value too. Uh uh, sorry, guys, if monism is right, then love and cruelty are ultimately ONE, as I’ve said before, Hitler is ONE with Mother Theresea. Love and hate are ONE, and you cannot make a “distinction between good and evil” because you’ve already said that “distinction” between things is the problem and we must deny such identity of being. So when the Monist tries to tell you that there is a distinction between your “distinctive” thinking and the reality of oneness, he is outright negating his own philosophy in expressing it. He is using distinction and identity while denying it. Metaphysical hypocrisy – and moral hypocrisy I might add. And if nihilism is right, then all attempts at creating meaning for ourselves is pure delusion. The fact that even nihilists are not consistent and do not commit suicide is because they are created by God with his image and know God, but suppress that knowledge in unrighteousness, trying to escape their responsibility to their Creator while maintaining the sanity of his benefits. (Romans 1:17-23) When a nihilist uses reason, he negates his own philosophy because reason assumes a universe of law-like order – Logos. The Nihilist assumes meaning while denying it. Well, I won’t go on. Unfortunately a couple things degrade the movie. First, the hero begins the opening moments of the film cussing his head off like something out of a Quentin Tarantino film, F-words galore. In a way, this is entirely consistent with the heart of his despair, but some may find it offensive. Another thing ticked me off. Of course, when dealing with metaphysical issues, what about religion? Ah yes, there is a completely gratuitous Christian-bashing scene full of the standard clichés and bigoted prejudices against Christians and Christianity. Albert and his Nihilist friend who is a fireman obsessed with petroleum conspiracy theories, visit a house that happens to be the home of a Christian family. As they eat lunch, they end up fighting because of course, the Christians are portrayed as ignorant fools who, “don’t ask those kind of questions” that are disturbing, because “curiosity killed the cat.” In other words, fear driven self-imposed ignorance about the real questions of life. When they leave the house, Albert and Wahl tell each other, “They’re crazy.” “Yeah, there’s nothing good in there.” Okay, Christianity has nothing good to say to these philosophical bigots. Ironically, Christianity is the only worldview that provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of anything beyond mute silence – and even silence itself! The Nihilist and Monist could not even argue that the Christian is wrong or “crazy” unless there is an absolute objective external order that defines truth beyond our personal subjective creations. Like the child sitting on the father’s lap trying to slap the father. This is the biblical definition of a fool: “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)