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Understanding I Heart Huckabees(A lesson in Existentialism with examples)
The greatest problem with I ♥ Huckabees that I have seen amongst
viewers(and many "professional" critics alike) is simply that much of the plot is "messy" or "hard to grasp."
The film is noted as an "Existential Comedy", and its obvious that to
be able to grasp the film, a background in Existentialism is required.
Sadly, in modern times, Existentialism (a offshoot of philosophy that
dominated much of the early-mid 1900's in Europe) is either unknown to
people, or misunderstood in general. I have had the privaledge of taking a
college course in Existentialism and so I would like to share with you some
insight and background to the movie to show where the film and the
philosophical movement collide.
One of the most prominent concepts in I ♥ Huckabees is that of
Martin Heidegger's Dasein. Dasein, literally meaning "Being-there", is
Heidegger's method in which he applies another prominent Existential
philospher, Edmund Husserl's phenomenology to human beings themselves.
What it does is instead of defining a "thing" and putting it into a
preconceived category, one waits for the "thing" to reveal itself in
its own time. The remarkable thing about Heidegger is that he never
calls human beings "man", but instead we are Dasein - in other words,
we are simply in a field of being where we are free to define who we
are for ourselves. Our being Dasein is our "thrownness" into life(a
prominent theme to the Existential movement), and we are "thrown" into
life with other Dasein(you and I). This then leads to mitdasein
("with-there-being"), meaning we are still "being-there"(Dasien), but
now we are there with other Dasein.
I ♥ Huckabees demonstrates Heidegger's Dasein and mitdasein
multiple times, usually emphasized by Dustin Hoffman's character,
Bernard. In the first few scenes of the movie, Bernard speaks of
infinity and "the blanket." He holds up a blanket and asks us to
imagine that it is the entire universe. Each part of the blanket is a
different person, place, or thing; whether it is a hammer, or Paris, or
you, the reader of this review. The point he makes is that everything
in the universe is interconnected and we can't tell where one person
begins and another ends. Bernard also tells us, "The universe is an
infinite sphere, the center is everywhere and the circumference is
nowhere." This is a wonderful example of Heidegger's Dasein; our being
has no outside to speak of, it is totality. The blanket represents
mitdasein, demonstrating that we are not alone in our infinite field of
being, but instead are accompanied by every other Dasein, all
Another of Heidegger's Existential ideas is tossed about in I ♥
Huckabees, though not as defined as the illusions to Dasein. When Tommy
(Mark Wahlberg) and Albert (Jason Schwartzman), meet the French
nihilist, Caterine (Isabelle Huppert), she introduces Heidegger's
concept of authenticity and inauthenticity. In the scene, Caterine has
Tommy and Albert repeatedly bash each other in the face with a large
ball; they continue to hit one another until the one being beaten
ceases to think for a brief period. They have discovered what Caterine
calls "Pure Being." In ceasing to think, Albert and Tommy are allowed
to simply be free to exist (Dasein, again), but they are soon pulled
back in their minds, which Caterine names human drama. Though they
think they can teach themselves to stay in a state of "Pure Being" all
the time, Caterine explains that it will always be a cycle, going from
"Pure Being" to human drama and back again.
According to Heidegger, before we realize our selves, we are in a state
of Verfallenheit, or "fallen-ness." In this state, we are slaves to
what Heidegger calls the One ("human drama"), or rather the public
life. We are part of this public creature and we are categorized for
being as such. This constricts us as Dasein and doesn't allow us to
realize our full potential. It is during this state of Verfallenheit,
and being part of the One, that we are inauthentic. We are not being
true to ourselves as Dasein, and therefore not allowing ourselves to
rise to the level of existence we need to reach. It is only when we
break free from the One and enter the level of Self that we become
authentic, true selves. Heidegger understands, however, that sometimes
we are pulled back into Verfallenheit, and must then go back through
the One, or human drama as Caterine puts it, and back into the level of
self. As Heidegger explains our cycle of inauthenticity and
authenticity, Caterine explains much the same thing in her description
of the cycle between "Pure Being" and human drama.
Another I ♥ Huckabees scene with high existential fiber is the
short poem about a rock which Albert has written for his "open spaces"
"Nobody sits like this rock sits. You rock, rock. The rock just sits
and is. You show us how to just sit here...and that's what we need."
The poem brings to light the term Being-for-itself (Ítre pour soi),
which is most closely associated with famous Existentialist Jean-Paul
Sartre. Because of our consciousness, this term is most often applied
to human beings and states that we are always beyond ourselves,
thinking thoughts of ourselves, obsessively thinking of our pasts and
futures, etc. This causes a lot of pain and suffering for human kind -
causing us to view ourselves in the future or judge ourselves according
to the past - failing to be in the present moment, in the NOW. Unlike
the rock which is always in the present moment, or, "being-in-itself",
Sartre believes that we can never possess ourselves fully. We can
posses the rock, however, because it is a thing. The rock is not
conscious, it is what it is at all moments...but this is something
impossible for humans because of our capability to go beyond ourselves
In the final scene of the movie, Albert and Tommy are sitting on the
rock and Albert claims that "The interconnection thing is definitely
for real." Heidegger would smile at Albert's newfound discovery of
mitdasein, that we are not alone in our infinite field of being, but
instead are accompanied by all others. "Everything is the same, even if
it's different." In this closing scene, in the same place as when the
movie opened, seeing them both there on the rock made it hard not to
think of the characters Vladimir and Estragon from Samuel Beckett's
Waiting for Godot, a famous Existential play in which two men wait
endlessly in the middle of nowhere for a man named "Godot".
The Existentialism that gave birth to many of the scenes in the movie,
I believe to be numerous. I have only touched upon a fraction of these.
For example, two very famous philosophers - Friedrich Nietzsche and
Soren Kierkegaard - can be seen as represented by the characters of
Caterine and Bernard. Nietzsche, most well known for his claim that
"God is dead", may very well be an incarnation in the philosophy shown
by Caterine. Kierkegaard on the other hand, who believed that God is
not dead, but truly being faithful requires a "leap of faith", is
brought alive in the enlightening and "soft" teachings of Bernard and
his wife. I wont go into further detail about the works of these two
men, but encourage anyone interested to read deeper into their two
philosophies...you will certainly find more connections between the
movie and the Existential movement.
I hope this has helped share some light on those both perplexed by the
movie and those interested in knowing the deeper aspect of I ♥
Huckabees. Again, if you take some time to educate yourself on the
background of Existentialism, you will find that I ♥ Huckabees is
a totally new experience when viewed a second time around.
Don't waste your time!
I'm sure a lesson in existentialism might be enlightening to a person or two, but that doesn't change the fact that this movie is absolutely horrible. For those reading this thread, don't subject yourselves to watching this movie a second time because you think you just didn't get it because you don't know your existentialism. For those reading this who haven't seen this move at all yet, save yourselves from the two hours of torture!!!
Look, I'm a philosophy major, and have what I feel is a very solid grasp of existentialism, and yes, that is what the movie is dealing with, but trying to make a comedy out of a debate on existentialism failed miserably. I think you have a cast of people who didn't want to say, "no" to their roles, because they thought people would think they were stupid, and I think there are many reviewers out there who know nothing about existentialism and don't want to lose any credibility, so they wrote positive reviews to look smarter, because they "got it". The fact is that the movie is just plain bad. I'm sure you could go to any post-secondary institution and watch two grad students debate existentialism, and find it a lot more interesting.
So, don't feel you need to watch and love this movie so that you can consider yourself intellectual with a superior sense of humour to the masses. This movie will do nothing but make you check your watch repeatedly, and wish you'd rented something else. You will demonstrate your superior intellect by making a better choice of movies the next time you go to Blockbuster.
This is one of my favourite films.
I loved it every step of the way. Did I get it every step of the way? Usually, but even when I didn't that was ok, because neither did the characters.
"Have you ever transcended space and time?" "No, well yes....Space but not time... Wait what are you talking about?"
This film should be commended for bringing philosophy back into our lives, as it is sorely lacking for most people.
However, more importantly, it should be watched and enjoyed for its smart writing, terrific characters and the overall feeling it leaves you with when you've watched it. It's one of the few films that can leave you feeling good without resorting to sappy cliches.
A smart comedy with an original concept and terrific execution. you'll laugh, you'll think, you'll laugh some more and you'll leave the theatre wondering.... How am I not myself?
this isn't worth trying to figure out
If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very soul.