I have watched three very human films over the last several weeks: Into the Wild (2007), The Road (2009), and Che (2008) Parts 1 and 2 — in that order. I found Into the Wild both inspiring and depressing. I am still processing (or trying not to think about) The Road, which was quite challenging to watch. Part 2 of Che, which I watched most recently, left me feeling quite depressed. My initial thoughts revolved around a personal need to have something more than trying to reduce the suffering and untold destruction our species is imposing on all other species and the planet.
I described each film as very human as they each try to present the actions of the main characters, and try to get us to reflect on how we would react, in very challenging, dire, circumstances. They each portray different situations. Into the Wild is an account of the life of Chris McCandless on his (mis)adventures in seeking to find himself that concluded with his death in the Alaskan wild. I found Jon Krakauer’s (1996) book of the same name far less romantic than the film. I still find the Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack, whilst amazing, very eery to listen to. The film in itself was hard to watch, given I already knew the outcome.
As Part 2 of Che flickered across my screen, I had a similar, though perhaps much more profound, reaction to Into the Wild. I can relate to Chris McCandless, having undertaken my own adventures, and have come close enough to my own end to facilitate some deep reflection. For Che, I have an affinity with his principled selflessness, his grounded belief in love as the cornerstone of all revolutionary change — which itself is slowly becoming an explicitly stated undercurrent of contemporary social theory and praxis. This does not take away from not agreeing with aspects of his approach, nor it is a romantic idealising. I am not denying a level of romanticism, which I also see in myself finding Into the Wild as inspiring — for interlinked and also distinct reasons. He put his own life on the line to seek to assist others in breaking free from the shackles of exploitation, in seeking to live his ideals.
The Road, a post-apocolypitc narrative of a father and son’s relationship and journey, does have such moments, and is arguably grounded in selflessness. Perhaps it is so troubling to me, and this selflessness is contrasted with selfishness and portrayals of peoples willingness to exploit others for their own gain. There are clear references to human nature arguments that are founded on bastardised Darwinian notions, and so often used by the conservatives and the ideological right to justify their own selfishness.
I think the roots of why these films disturbed me the most, is that I do have a hope that we—as a species—can and will wake up. That we can transform our own existence away from one based on selfishness and an ability to rationalise how we treat others in so many fucked up ways. I still have trouble with a number: 10 billion. This is how many animals are caged and otherwise exploited before being murdered for human consumption per year in the US alone. As well, the (largely) untold numbers of humans exploited every day—ranging from systematic rape, torture and murder, through to the more pervasive and unquestioned, including increasing poverty and longer working hours whilst CEO salaries that averaged $50 million only a few years ago, are now averaging upwards of $400 million.
I think what I am trying to reflect on, in how these films disturbed me so, is a self-need for something positive: something more than mere resistance and being able to have more than a little impact. In accepting the very small impact and limited control I have over the array of atrocities perpetuated every second, trying to find something more than merely waxing the deck of the titanic. It is not easy to insulate oneself when we overcome our ignorance. The question is, how can we find enough to sustain us in the wake of this.
I am not feeling as depressed as I was as the final moments of Che’s life passed across my eyes (and the preceding murder of Tania, amongst others). That said, I not able to explain the why (the thought required to pen this jumble of words is a clear factor). It is a struggle I wish I did not repeatedly go through, and one that will undoubtable continue for many moons to come..