“Long as You Know You’re Living Yours”
Song title, Keith Jarrett
"The world is impermanent. One should constantly remember death."
“In this world, we eat, shit, sleep, and wake up. After that, all we have to do is die.”
“Please enjoy your only life!”
“The power of a man’s virtues should be measured not by his special efforts, but by his ordinary doing.”
“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
I’ve often described atheism as a great liberation – you never waste one minute worrying about whether God exists, whether he answers your prayers, whether he’ll send you to hell, what his plan is, what he meant in this or that Biblical passage. Not one minute!
Another advantage is that you can discover wisdom anywhere. When my 7-year-old stepson Zach asked his Christian stepmother whether there weren’t in fact many gods and holy books (we had showed him Internet videos of Jews and Muslims praying), he was firmly told that no, there is only one God and one holy book.
Wisdom from everywhere
I’m not worried about Zach. He’s too curious, too impertinent. He’ll figure it out for himself. And when he does, he will realize that there’s a whole world of wisdom out there. It’s not just confined to one book.
A billion Muslims are in mental enslavement to this one-book idea. It would be good if the book contained something of value, but my understanding is that the Koran has much more gibberish, fairy tales, and kill-the-infidels (in “The End of Faith,” Sam Harris quotes dozens of such gems) than wisdom.
Jew are just as bad, with their “core resource” delusion: that all wisdom must be spun from the primitive Torah (hence the Talmud and centuries of spin/commentary), with its irrelevant, mind-numbing rules for shepherds and farmers thousands of years ago. I read the document in the best English translation available (440 pages), and I found only 29 directives worth obeying, most of them obvious (don’t make your daughter a harlot).
So yes, wisdom is where you find it, even in a throw-away movie comedy whose star has a devoted following, but not for his philosophical depth. Some people cringe at Adam Sandler, or belittle him, and I don’t know why.
He is truly a wise fool. He has a delightful bent for the absurd, as we saw in his “Operaman” newscasts on Saturday Night Live. Who can forget his winsome Canteen Boy, demurely resisting Alec Baldwin’s gay advances? And his Hanukkah Song, which we’re all ready to hear again this year in all three versions, will live forever and has already inspired parodies, including an atheist variety that lists famous atheists the way Sandler did with Jews (“…Angelina Jolie and Carl Sagan…put ‘em together and they make one GOOD-looking pagan”).
The seduction of work
In “Click” (2006), he is architect Michael Newman, a name only slightly less Jewish than the star’s. As so often happens, his work is eating up his life. It’s that old capitalist carrot and stick: bust your ass for a couple years, and then you’ll get promoted – which will not be some heavenly plateau, but will, in fact, require MORE time and effort. It’s a devil’s bargain and one than many working people fall for.
The immediate source of Michael’s irritation is one that we can all share: the need for a universal remote. Some of his remotes operate his kids’ toys, which makes for even more confusion.
Michael heads out to a big-box store to get a universal remote. He winds up at Bed Bath and Beyond, and we finally find out what the “Beyond” means (the company got terrific PR exposure from this movie). Michael heads into a spooky warehouse inhabited by a weird techno-geek sales type.
At first I thought only Christopher Lloyd would do – the mad scientist from the "Back to the Future" movies. But when I saw what Christopher Walken did with the role, I realized that he practically stole the movie, acting as its center, supplying droll philosophical commentary along the way, and only later announcing who he really is.
So he gives Michael the latest universal remote. It doesn’t even have a bar code yet, so it’s free. The condition is, you can’t return it.
The universal remote
Michael gratefully takes his prize home and soon finds out what a universal remote really it: it is universal. He can mute his dog’s barking. He can pause reality, which he does to give his asshole, glad-handing boss (David Hasselhoff) a beating. All of a sudden the boss is in a world of hurt, but Michael‘s still just standing there, grinning.
He can alter reality in other ways as well. He uses the color control to make himself look like the Incredible Hunk, Barney the Dinosaur, and finally, a beautifully-tanned Michael. At a restaurant with Japanese clients, he changes the language setting, and all of sudden he can hear them privately discussing his firm – but IN ENGLISH. He finds out what they really want and closes the deal.
This movie is rhetorically at right angles with “Groundhog Day,” in which arrogant putz Bill Murray is doomed to live the same day over and over till he gets it right. “Click,” on the other hand, asks: what if you could alter your experience of reality in unprecedented ways, changing languages, pausing at will, and more? What if you didn’t have to experience the monotonously forward arrow of time but could relive past moments, avoid routine chores, skip ahead? Would it be better?
(BTW, the narrator in Nicolson Baker’s “The Fermata” also figures out how to stop time, but he uses it for masturbatory purposes.)
Both movies converge at the point of the problem of what to do with one’s life, given the certain outcome.
Enjoying the power
When Murray realizes he is immortal, he consumes great quantities of sugar, smokes, even throws a toaster in his bathtub. He can’t escape Groundhog Day. He gradually starts to use his power for good, even learning to play the piano (for the teacher, it’s always the “first” lesson) and rescuing people from or preventing accidents that he knew were going to happen. .
Similarly, Michael plays with his powers successfully. Caught in a marital memory test, he pauses, his wife freezes in mid-word, and he rewinds until he can access the song that was playing when they fell in love.
All goes well until the day he discovers he can fast-forward through moments he’d rather not have to experience: traffic jams, arguments, even sex. He speeds up the sex so that he’s satisfied, but she isn’t. Then he finds that certain events start to automatically fast-forward.
He pays a return visit to Morty. What’s going on? Morty takes him to MENU, which is indeed a metaphor for where your consciousness is when it isn’t anywhere else. The movie’s MENU is a blue computer-graphic 360o swirl of access to past experiences, states of mind, and information…everything you’d find in a menu, all the capabilities in one place. It’s everywhere and nowhere.
Morty explains that the remote device remembers what you fast-forward and will always fast-forward you through those experiences. Who is he? The Angel of Death (morte, get it?).
Michael wants out. He tries everything to get rid of the remote, but it reappears, even in his bodily orifices.
He then starts doing what he should have done all along: paying attention to and living his own life. He wants to avoid the automatically-fast-forwarded auto-piloted (the word is used frequently in the script) activities like getting dressed in the morning, so he goes to work in a bathrobe. He tries to avoid all the routine activities of which he has been unconscious – and has been made to be unconscious.
Hoping to escape, he programs the device to take him to a good time in the future, but now his kids are grown, somewhat alienated, and he’s in the hospital after he had a heart attack and gained and lost 100 pounds – even has a gross stomach flap to prove it.
But fast-forwarding to the future doesn’t do it either. He’s lost his wife to his work and another man. Very sad, because they had a real love affair at first.
Michal dies after tearing himself loose from his IVs, running out of the hospital, and chasing his ex-wife, the lost love of his life, down the street.
Fade to black? Not quite. In fact, it’s lights up. At first it looks like a sappy, happy Hollywood ending – it was all a dream! -- with Michael awakening from a nap on one of the BB&B’s beds (the salesguy admits he too takes naps).
He has a euphoric, Ebenezer-Scrooge-on-Christmas-morn experience. Or think Jimmy Stewart’s manic relief in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” another existential exploration: what would the world have been like without you? He rushes home and embraces his once-again-little children, determined to do better.
But then he finds a note – and another remote -- from Morty: “I thought it was worth giving a nice guy another chance. I hope you’ll make the right choice this time.” Morty adds that he still admires Michael’s wife’s body. Michael tosses the remote in the trash and begins really living his life.
Now we know what death has to do with it all. It is the specter of death that makes us auto-pilot through life. Before you know it, it’s the top of the ninth, and you didn’t pay attention – or you pursued false goals and lived someone else' version of your life, which is just as bad. As the old saying goes, “Nobody lies on his deathbed wishing he’d spent more time at the office.”
The politicians promise jobs as a panacea to everyone’s problems, but how many jobs are just a treadmill, a mere exchanges of time for money (which buys you more time to run faster)?
In order for work to be meaningful and seductive, they have to make you think that you’re doing something important. One of the management cliché mantras in the 90s was that every employee contributes to “brand value.” It’s a stretch. Most people work because they need the money.
The message of “Click”: nobody gets out alive. Morty has plans for all of us. Until he appears, let’s make sure that we are living our own lives, and not pouring the energy of our days into fulfilling someone else’s agenda. Let’s pay attention – to kids, health, family, friends, surroundings, whatever – and keep our finger off the “auto-pilot” button.