no rhyme or reason

CAUSE & EFFECT – I had a conversation with a friend recently about cause and effect.  In his world a strong link between the two is important:  to know that by good intentions, preparation, diligent work etc., an outcome can be projected, expected and perhaps even defined.  I pitched a more tenuous linkage, and so we drank our beer and bantered back and forth for a while.

I came across another way of thinking about the relationship between cause and effect in de Botton’s book Status Anxiety.  In it he says that, further back in history, we used to believe in fatedness and fortune.  That the link between what you strive to do may have a very loose relationship to the outcomes of your life, and that, beside your own volition and will, there were many factors that contribute to the courses of peoples lives.  To reflect this haphazardness, people at the extremes of society were called fortunates and unfortunates.

Today, says the author, we have ratcheted tight the cause – effect linkage; and now we see people who rise and fall and attribute their successes and failures to their own effort and power, and really to nothing else.  No mitigating circumstances, catastrophic events, silver spoons, nothing.

DAYS OF HEAVEN – The film maker and critic Zoller-Seitz describes a new world made by Terrence Malick in his film Days of Heaven in the excerpt from his short film below.  In Malick’s world, cause is delinked from effect; there is no underlying reason why things happen to the characters in the film.  They are like characters in naturalist paintings:  incidental, subsumed in the face of huge, terrifying and uncaring Nature.

Malick’s peerless, ancient, detached, cosmos has a mind of its own.  And we – voracious consumers of popular American culture and believers in the myths it spins of success and hard work and happy endings –  see it, and wonder. Not in its inspiration or awesomeness.  More in its difference:  its refusal to reinforce our belief in ourselves, what we think is our will and our power.

Here is the excerpt from Zoller-Seitz’s essay:

9:30 The movie never quite tips over and suggests that there’s cause and effect here.  That the behaviour of these people somehow brought down the wrath of God or nature.  It’s just something that happened.  The idea of the director as God, I think, takes on more than just a technical meaning here.  Peering down on human affairs from high above, from a detached perspective, and taking an interest in what’s happening down on earth, but not intervening.  The sense that noone is intervening is something that runs all through this movie.  They’re left to their own devices.  They’re left to fend for themselves.  There’s really no rhyme or reason to why good fortune strikes for them or bad fortune.  It’s just something that happens.

99 out of 100 Hollywood movies are dedicated to the proposition that your story is important and by you I mean the character that you are associating with, who is your surrogate.  Terrence Malick stands in complete opposition to that.  All of his films, to some degree, reinforce the idea that no, it’s not about you.  You may think it is, but it’s not.  And this life that you’re living is just one infinitesimal part of the cosmos.

The children of Terrence Malick, Matt Zoller-Seitz, Salon

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Research is starting to show the very notion of free will is an illusion. A necessary illusion, but nevertheless, a trick of our minds.

Everyone who cleaves to the idea of the American Dream should think about that a bit before they condemn the homeless person, or beatify their robber barons.

Comment by Mark

Thanks for your comment. I just finished Outliers by Gladwell – a book length conversation on the problems with the idea of will. I recommend it.

Comment by Peter Rudd

I enjoyed it too!

Comment by Mark

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: