Category Archives: Movies

Detachment (2011)

Director – Tony Kaye

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In the film, the character of Adrien Brody, Henry says

I realized something. I’m a non-person, Sarah. You shouldn’t be here, I’m not here. You may see me, but I’m hollow.

The film shows the degradation of the American education system where children have no respect for anything and teachers are at their wits end. Henry arrives at this school as a substitute school teacher and is able to bring an unruly class under control. He is a person who does not show any emotions and is completely detached to everything and everyone. At the same time, he is also shown expressing his love and concern for his ailing grandfather. He brings home a street prostitute, heals her physical and emotional wounds and yet refuses to accept her advances. One of this students becomes infatuated with him and starts to click his pictures in secret. Then there is a co-teacher with also whom Henry gets close. He In all these relationships, Henry tries to remain detached. He even arranges for the orphanage to take away the prostitute.

Henry teaches his students to cultivate their own consciousness against what his calls the ubiquitous assimilation of everything around us.

I liked this film because I could identify quite closely with the character of Henry, a person struggling between detachment and involvement with the world.

Is Reality an Illusion?

Is reality merely an illusion? The wise keep saying that. But it is difficult to wrap our heads around this notion. After all, we see, hear, smell, taste and feel things. How can all this be an illusion?

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Imagine you are in a movie hall engrossed in an exciting movie. As the movie captivates your attention, it begins to influence your emotions and state of mind. Depending on whether the movie is a thriller or a horror movie, you experience the ups and downs of emotions along with the characters in the movie.

So the question is – Is the movie real? Yes it is. It is playing in front of you. But it is not real. The characters are not real. It is an illusion created on the screen in front of you.

I am sure you would have experienced a movie which made you cry, laugh, and once in a while make you jump out of your chair. We think the movie is good, well made, well directed and the actors were superb. However, we forget one very important thing – the fact that we invest reality into the movie. Although it is not done by explicitly thinking “I am going to consider this movie as real” but the overall effect of lights out and loud volume immerses you into the movie and makes it appear as real. Without this serious participation in the movie on our part, we will not enjoy it.

Similarly it is with other things in life. Take for example sports. We have to invest seriousness into something which is fundamentally non-serious. Scoring a goal or taking a wicket is nothing in itself without us making a serious business of it.

Therefore, the wise say that life is merely the game of God – Lila.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players… (Shakespeare)

So it takes a slight turning around of our view, although happening in an unaware state, to consider an illusory thing as real. Similarly, it takes a reversal of that turning around in our view, by doing it consciously, to come back to normal perspective on things.

As a child, I cried when Amitabh died in Sholay. My parents told me it is only a movie and that he did not die in reality. Many people are upset when their team loses a match. But it only takes a minor realization that it is only a game in order to get over the sadness.

Getting Stuck

The problem is not that we consider as serious business what is not serious but it is staying for long in that specific state. When we continuously invest seriousness into everything in life, we experience stress. Even a small one minute delay will raise our blood pressure. We become cranky, demanding and pushy if we take everything as real.

However, staying too much on the other extreme is also equally problematic. If we assume the position that nothing in life is serious, then we will not be able to act appropriately in life. We will become casual, non committal when we take everything as illusion.

Those are the two extremes. The true path is in the middle. Discard both views that life is real or illusion and take life as it is. Do not ask how!

Everything is real and is not real. Both real and not real. Neither real nor not real. This is Lord Buddha’s teaching. (Mulamadhyamakakarika – Root verses of the Middle Way by Nagarjuna)

Just notice and be aware and be conscious whenever you invest seriousness (when you act as if it was real and it mattered) or non-seriousness (when you act as it it did not matter at all) into any situation in life.

So life is not serious but let us not take it casually or life is serious but let us not take it seriously!

 

Groundhog Day (1993)

Director – Harold Ramis

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One of my most favorite films – The Groundhog Day is an unforgettable movie. And Bill Murray makes it even more special. He is amazing in this film as always.

There is a superstition around the Groundhog, a squirrel kind of a creature. Depending on whether the Groundhog after appearing from its burrow, goes back in or comes out, people can predict whether the winter will continue for longer than 6 weeks or end within six weeks. The Groundhog Day is celebrated in USA and Canada on Feb 2nd every year.

In the movie, Bill plays the role of a television reporter who is frustrated about having to cover the celebrations of Groundhog day year after year. But this year something unusual happens. Every day he gets up in the morning, it is Groundhog day again. It seems that his life has become a broken record which has got stuck on the Groundhog day. The same sequence of events unfold every single day. And only he seems to be aware of it. He gets so bored of his repeating life that he even tries to end it but unsuccessfully. He again wakes up to the Groundhog day.

In a funny manner, the film draws our attention to how repetitive our own life is – Wake up, get ready, go to office, meet the same people, have tea, have lunch, attend meetings with the same decisions again and again, return home, watch TV and go to sleep. And to somebody who is aware of this repetition, it seems the other people are totally unaware because they seem to be going about their life as if nothing unusual is happening.

In the film, Bill learns to finally accept the repetitions and starts to take advantage of all the knowledge he has about what happened during the day to impress people with his predictions. But as long as he is giving the same report on the Groundhog day, his life keeps repeating. Finally, one day, he gives a very enthusiastic report on the celebrations and also proposes to his girlfriend. The next day he finds he has broken the loop and moved on to the next day.

To me this is highly symbolic. If you do not do anything to change your life, your life will keep repeating as usual. And that change is nothing but in your attitude. You can say the same things and do the same things but when you do it consciously, it has a different outcome.

Another story that follows a similar theme is P D Ouspensky’s The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin. In this story, Ivan gets a chance to live his life again with all the memories of his first life available to him. Armed with this knowledge, Ivan thinks that he will be able to correct all the mistakes he made in his previous innings. But that does not happen. Despite knowing everything, he still takes the same decisions and actions and makes the same mistakes again. This goes to show that it is not easy to change oneself so easily. All our actions follow mechanically from the environment we live in.

Das Experiment (2001)

Director – Oliver Hirschbiegel

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This is a German movie. Das Experiment translates to The Experiment. The experiment is about observing human behavior in a simulation of a prison environment.

In 1971, Philip Zimbardo a professor at Stanford conducted a real life prison experiment using college students in order to study the psychological effect of perceived power. This film and many others are inspired by those events.

In Das Experiment, there is a professor who recruits 20 paid volunteers for the experiment of which 8 are selected to play the role of prison guards and 12 selected to play the role of prisoners. He sets one rule that there must be no violence of any kind during the simulation. The job of the prison guards is to maintain law and order and the job of the prisoners is to be locked up in their cells and to follow some arbitrary rules that the prison guards would make.

The movie depicts how the situation deteriorates over the course of a few days as the volunteers start taking their roles seriously, forgetting that they are doing this for money as volunteers in the experiment. As the story develops, it starts to focus on the battle between one dominant prisoner Tarek who tries to break the rules and one sadist prison guard Berus who will go to any extent to subjugate Tarek. Eventually the story takes a violent turn resulting in deaths and injuries. At the end, both Tarek and Berus comment to each other – you started it all.

But if you watch the film, you will not be able to find out where it all started and who was to blame. Maybe it was the setting of the experiment, maybe it was that the volunteers forgot who they were and took their roles too seriously, maybe it was the fact that both prisoners and guards were given their specific uniforms and were told to behave as them.

In real life also, whenever we take our roles too seriously, we forget who we are and resort to physical and vocal violence. We can even take this analogy further. In life we are born into a specific country, a community, a religion and we start taking that position seriously and become prisoners of that thinking.

Just imagine if the prison experiment was conducted on a mass scale across generations, then prisoners and prison guards would no longer know that it was all an experiment. Prison guards would start to believe that they were chosen by God while prisoners would believe that they are being unjustly tortured.

Pushing the analogy to its limits. Self-realization is when we wake up from this identification of who we are – whether a doctor or an entrepreneur or a factory worker, or a man or a woman or a Catholic or a Jain – and intuitively know that we are THAT. In that moment, all our assumed pretenses fall away and we will truly become a nobody. And even if we have to live out a role in the society, we will be able to do that without the associated anxieties and stress.

In the film, Tarek’s co-prisoner Steinhoff (#38) displays this level of awareness during the whole experiment. He is constantly aware that he is only there for the experiment and avoids getting involved in the escalating situation with the prison guards. In the end he also helps the other prisoners escape from the cells.

Warning: The film contains several scenes depicting male and female nudity. So watch responsibly. Also use subtitles as the film is in German

 

Kiss The Sky (1988)

Director – Roger Young

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Sex and Spirituality somehow have a deep connection – Some people find spirituality in sex while others say it cannot be found in sex. This film shows that deep connection in a marvelous manner. The story revolves around two middle aged executives who are tired of their routine – family, mortgage and job. They think they have lost their freedom in the course of making life work for themselves and their wives. They decide to go to the Philippines to find freedom or at least a good holiday (from a man’s perspective).

Their lives are changed forever when they meet the beautiful Andy and later the Zen monk Kozan. All men will very easily relate to the dialogues in the film and not just the sensuous chemistry between the main characters. The film brings out the essential conundrum faced by men – doing everything so seriously in life with the best of intentions and yet not finding that inner satisfaction, either in their jobs or with their wives. The monk suggests to give up the search for the better asking the rhetorical question – whats so wrong with life that you need to struggle to make it better?

Waking Life (2001)

Director – Richard Linklater

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George Santayana said: “Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled.” One of the persistent teachings of the spiritual masters is that our waking life – the life in which we walk, talk, think, eat, go to the office, marry, bring up children – is actually a dream. Even though we think we awake from sleep, we are actually day dreaming in our waking life. All our goals, ambitions, memories are simply a common dream. When one realizes this, there is the possibility of further waking up to the ultimate reality beyond time and space.

The film Waking Life is a unique film in many respects. It is a digitally enhanced live-action rotoscoped film. Everything is shaking and fuzzy as if in a dream. The story is about a young man who is in a continuous dream like consciousness – he keeps waking up from one dream but finds himself in another one like the layers of an onion. In his dreams, he meets other characters and discusses with them philosophical issues such as free will, relationships, existentialism, and so on.

I must say that you will need tremendous energy to watch this film – my most favorite mystical movie.

Man or Machine

Human frailties are glorified so much that there seems to be no way of accepting a person who has overcome those weaknesses. “To err is to human” and other similar sayings tend to accept that humans are imperfect. Although, it is true, it also closes the door to perfection. It becomes an excuse to remain imperfect, remain mediocre.

Man has always tried to make machines as intelligent or more powerful as humans. However, there is a general understanding that machines can never learn emotions. Rajnikanth may prove you otherwise.

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Emotions are considered to be the touchstone on which to perform the Turing test (A test to differentiate between man and machine). In simple words, humans are humans because they have emotions, which machines can never have.

The point most of humanity misses is how mechanical our emotions are. Emotions are simply reactions to external stimuli. And despite all the talk about emotional intelligence, very few people even think about the possibility of being free of emotional outbursts.

Those who show little or no emotions are considered by other people to be mechanical. Emotions are seen to be so necessary to live and express oneself.

Take the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day. He is shown to be a machine, yet when told by young John Connor, not to kill people, takes care not to do that. Now how many humans will be able to take such instructions and follow them? Obviously, we are not machines! We are emotional beings and we will not be able to do anything as perfectly as a machine can do, if we compare apples to apples.

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By thinking of machines as inferior to humans and by thinking that emotions are the hallmark of human beings, we can never see how machine-like all our actions and behavior really are.

Someone who realizes that his emotions are simply reactions over which he has no control whatsoever is in a far better position to understand himself than someone who believes she has a right to be angry to express her state of mind or a right to sulk when he does not get what he wants.

Attainment of self knowledge refers partly to this truth about oneself. Take it or leave it. If you take it, you might observe your machine, set it right and be able to do far more marvelous things and have the opportunity to gain something real. If you leave it, you do not lose anything cause you do not have anything in the first place.

Is Good Better Than Evil?

I am writing this with reference to the good and evil as depicted in Indian films. The hero or the protagonist is always shown to be on the good side while the evil is personified in the villain. The story is almost always a clash between good and evil and good is always shown to be victorious in the end.

If you have seen films like Ghajini, you see that Aamir Khan, the protagonist is the good guy while Ghajini, the villain is the bad guy. Ghajini kills the girlfriend Asin and injures Aamir Khan. Now, Aamir Khan is so filled with vengeance, that he has become more evil than the villain – just see the way he goes and bashes up the goons and eventually kills Ghajini.

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This kind of story is the norm in Hindi films. First the villain does some harm to the hero or the society and then the hero destroys the villain’s business. But in order to do so, the hero must learn the evil ways first. So if good starts behaving in evil ways, what is the difference between good and evil?

Take another example – Sunny Deol. He becomes so angry in films that it becomes difficult to know whether he is the hero or the villain. You will seriously be afraid to associate with such a person (I am only talking of the character he portrays and not the person he is in real life) – I wonder how he even gets a girlfriend who would like to marry him.

An eye for an eye and tit for tat kind of revenge seems very much acceptable to our society. When the villain beats up the hero, the audience sympathizes and when the hero beats up the villain, the crowd cheers.

There are films where the protagonist plays a negative character such as Shahrukh Khan in Baazigar. He is taking revenge for the wrong done to his father and murders Shilpa Shetty (in the film of course). This violence is literally endless. It is possible that somebody from the villains family will one day kill Shahrukh Khan if the story would have continued.

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Shahrukh’s justification in the film is simply – you started it first. It is a common dialogue in Hindi films – Yeh khel tumne shuru kiya tha aur main ise khatam karoonga. The film may end but the game never ends in real life.

In order to get hold of terrorists, police have to start thinking like terrorists. The idea is to instill fear of police in terrorists so that they will stop their evil activities. However, in the process, the police itself becomes so fearsome that they resemble terrorists.

In order to get hold of terrorists, police have to start thinking like terrorists. The idea is to instill fear of police in terrorists so that they will stop their evil activities. However, in the process, the police itself becomes so fearsome that they resemble terrorists.

For Obama, Osama is the villain but for Osama, Obama is the villain. In films, the story is told only from the hero’s point of view. There is never, if any, any investigation in to the life of the villain – what kind of life he faced and what made him do the things he did.

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This is not an easy matter to solve. Real Goodness cannot be equated with the mundane goodness of ordinary life. Mundane goodness as depicted by heros in the films is just as evil as the evil villains they are trying to exterminate.

We must look for genuine Goodness beyond good and evil as normally understood.

Peaceful Warrior (2006)

Director – Victor Salva

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The Zen-like paradoxical title of this film was what first attracted me to this movie. And I must say that the film surpassed all my expectations. The film is an adaptation of a novel written by Dan Millman and is partly autobiographical. It tells the story of a highly competitive college gymnast who happens to meet a mysterious individual whom he calls Socrates, who teaches him to live in the moment, not through theories and discourses but by actual demonstration.

Dan is initially attracted to Socrates after seeing a miraculous feat. He wants to learn from Socrates what he thinks are tricks which he can use to excel in gymnastics. However, when he discovers that he is becoming different from his peers, he becomes skeptical and afraid of what Socrates is teaching him and leaves him. As he goes back to his old ways, Dan meets with an accident which breaks his leg and he is removed from his college team. Dan turns to Socrates again in desperation, and he now truly begins to learn and understand. Socrates encourages him to train again for gymnastics and to get back on the team.

This movie is one of the best teacher-pupil movies I have seen. Movies based on sporting themes are always entertaining and this one combines spirituality which makes it a treat to watch.

One of my favorite quotes from the movie

Socrates to Dan: You practice gymnastics. I practice everything.

​I believe that “living in the moment” does not mean ignoring the future or forgetting the past. It is not something to be learned by practice and effort. This living happens when you realize that all there is exists in the NOW.

The Truman Show (1998)

Director – Peter Weir

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This movie is the mother of all reality shows on television. It takes the idea of Big Brother or Big Boss wherein participants are closeted in a house for 3 months, and extends it to the whole life of one individual.

Truman is born and grown-up on the sets of the reality show. A whole city is constructed as the set complete with neighbors, offices, and the beach. Everything including the weather is simulated. Except Truman, everyone else is an actor. The filming is done through hidden cameras and the show is televised round the clock to the world. Everything is fine until Truman finds some inconsistency about things happening to him and decides to investigate.

Now in the spiritual tradition, the world we live in is also a sort of a self-created reality show which sustains itself. Everyone is already hypnotized into believing what his identity is, based on which he or she lives. However, there are some individuals who find inconsistencies in the worldly affairs and decide to investigate the true meaning of life and become spiritual seekers.