Europa, Europa

Europa, Europa.


Of all the existential films I have watched thus far in this series, this one is based on actual events during World War 2 in Germany and the Soviet Union. The film is subtitled in English, which at times can be distracting, but was not distracting for me this time.

Filmed in 1990, this chronicles the life of Soloman, a German Jew who lives through the travails of World War two by posing as an Aryan man, living in a Communist camp and a Hitler youth camp and eventually finding his way back to the USSR side and finding his older brother in a death camp. Told with poignancy we learn how the decisions he must make to decry his religion and the foundations of his life affect him and his understanding of living with authenticity.

This story reminds me of the Victor Frankl work “Man’s Search for Meaning” which was written by a Jewish man who had been incarcerated at several death camps. In the film and in the book, we learn how happenstance, coincidence and choices made save the men from their untimely demises. Each pathway in both of these pieces offers a look into impossible situations, horrible decision making processes and near misses.

The key to both of these works is the existential crisis of meaning in one’s life and the choices we have to view them as learning experiences or not. In both cases, the men lose everything, save their personal “shells” or bodies and their minds. They learn how to remain strong and how to deal with things that make no sense in the real world. In Frankl’s case he wrote of a time when he had to hold a bucket of feces and urine as it slopped all over his face during a wagon drive. He could not make a face, could not complain or do anything but sit quietly, as he would have been flogged or worse. He says that living in an unusual situation requires an unusual perspective. In the film, “Jupp” who is Soloman has been circumcised, which is a Jewish tradition. He knows if anyone sees his penis, he will be caught, so he ties it with a string and watches as it becomes painfully infected. Once again, the need to deal with the situation overtakes the more comfortable alternative.

While this movie is another “holocaust” tale, it offers the viewer much more than just a web of tragic events re-enacted. This film touches at the very core of how we interact with other human beings and how we treat those that we deem are “against” us and our way of life. The crux of the issue in this film is identity at the very deepest core. Soloman is not afraid to turn from his religious leanings in order to escape persecution. Many would call him a “traitor” to his beliefs, but he is really a hero. He is heroic in that he fights with all his being to find a place in between the ravages of war and the cruelty of its influence and come to terms with life. Losing his family and eventually the one woman he loves to Nazi German influences makes him see the way the world operates is never fair. He reminds us that while we are heroic, we are also human in our desires, a very rare thing to see.


The Fountain

The Fountain was one of the most creative movies on existentialism I have seen in a long time. The movies moves between time periods, but does so in a most cohesive way and shows the characters interactions through two different times. The symbolism is fantastic, particularly the Tree of Life and its history and some fantastic Buddhist meditation scenes that occur in a mandala, the circle of life.

Hugh Jackman plays a man bent on saving his ill wife from her demise who is often too busy to offer her the precious time she needs to just “be” with him. His wife writes a book called “The Fountain” that details his past life journey and leaves him the last chapter to complete for her when she dies. The book of life, the tree of life, all of these have been mentioned in myth and fable over time. And of course, so has the magic fountain of youth, the preserving of our precious selves. We are often so focused on that end that we do not enjoy the life in front of us. This reminds us that life is fleeting and we need to participate actively in it, or feel it’s’ tragic loss more bitterly for not doing so. There are two other lives the protagonist Thomas attends, one in 16th century Spain, and another in a biosphere in the year 2500. All of these focus on the existential question haunting man….are we immortal?

This existential film blends elements of fantasy, history, religion, and science fiction in its intricate construction. This movies imagery offers us many symbolic representations of death and the life process as well. The use of snow as death imagery, the use of a nonlinear filming also makes it a cinematic representation of the circle of life. What lies beyond the exterior? This appears to be a very critical motif in this movie.  We spend our lives in constant reflection of the past and concern over the future thereby missing the present moment to do the work that is necessary for our growth and also that in relation to the other.

Synecdoche, NY!


Talk about a movie that could be dissected for months and months! What a rare treat in a movie. Those who only wish to watch a movie on the surface will not understand, or like this movie, I wager. The names of the characters have meaning, so does the word synecdoche, which is a literary word meaning: “simultaneous understanding”.

Caden Cotard is in the prime of his life and falling apart. Many things around him are decaying or dead and he focuses on those things so much, he drives his wife away. His therapist is a cheerful dolt who only listens on the surface and then only wishes to sell him her book, which is her meaning of life, not anyone else’s. The characters are all selfishly narcissistic and in need of therapy, but this is the world, in a nutshell, magnified. Microcosm-Macrocosm.

Cotard is obsessed with his illnesses, his poop, pustules and other maladies. He clearly needs to be acknowledged, and his life sets him up to be scrutinized by doctors, shrinks and dentists. As a director, he seeks fame and wins an award so he can finally make his masterpiece on the stage. Trouble is, it is more convoluted than that. There is one scene in which he directs others who “have no idea” what life is about, they need to be told how to talk, walk and interact. Seems like real life where people cannot discern their own best decision. There are so many wonderful pieces of dialog here that it is almost impossible to choose just one I liked the most. Instead of finding it dreary and morose, I found this fresh and inspiring. It gave me hope that I was not alone in some of the anguish I feel, the sense of dread is real and affects everyone.

Many of the ways that the film stretches the boundaries of realism are focused on seemingly odd preferences. For instance, Hazel buys a house that is perpetually on fire.  “At first showing reluctance to buy it, Hazel remarks to the real estate agent, “I like it, I do. But I’m really concerned about dying in the fire,” which prompts the response “It’s a big decision, how one prefers to die.” In an interview with Michael Guillén, Kaufman stated, “Well, she made the choice to live there. In fact, she says in the scene just before she dies that the end is built into the beginning. That’s exactly what happens there. She chooses to live in this house. She’s afraid it’s going to kill her but she stays there and it does. That is the truth about any choice that we make. We make choices that resonate throughout our lives.” She also dies from smoke inhalation, which shows the audience we reap the consequences of our erroneous decisions.


Caden’s last name is “Cotard” which is the same name as a psychological state called the “Cotard delusion” which means one believes oneself to be dead or that one’s organs are missing or decaying. Yes, this is a continuing theme in the movie. Caden means “battle” and we know he battles these thoughts throughout. His daughter, Olive, can also be broken into the idea “O-Live” which seems to be something she and her mother are bound to do without him. Adele “Lack” lacks the compassion for her husband after so many years of marriage. She works tediously on her tiny paintings. They are so tiny, she needs magnifying glasses to see them and for the audience to view them. She is good on small details, but on large, she lacks proper vision.


One of the scenes requires him to ring a doorbell with the name Capgras above it. Capgras syndrome is a psychiatric disorder in which sufferers perceive familiar people (spouses, siblings and, friends) to have been replaced by identical imposters. This doppelganger theme is echoed throughout the film as individuals are replaced by actors in Caden’s ever-expanding play. The doppleganger, which comes from German expressionism means: “double of a living person, typically representing evil or misfortune. In modern vernacular it is any double or look-alike of a person.” This motif is at the center of the film where director Caden hires actors to be characters that are alive and interact with the other. The most amazing sets offer us a continuous look at the deeply structured “rooms” we inhabit in life.


What a movie!


Poem at beginning of movie was Rilke’s :


Best dialog in the movie IMHO:””Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but it doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along. Something to make you feel connected, something to make you feel whole, something to make you feel loved…”


Theater of the Absurd: The Theatre of the Absurd is commonly associated with Existentialism, and Existentialism was an influential philosophy in Paris during the rise of the Theatre of the Absurd; however, to call it Existentialist theatre is problematic for many reasons. It gained this association partly because it was named (by Esslin) after the concept of “absurdism” advocated by Albert Camus, a philosopher commonly called Existentialist though he frequently resisted that label. Absurdism is most accurately called Existentialist in the way Franz Kafka’s work is labeled Existentialist: it embodies an aspect of the philosophy though the writer may not be a committed follower.[48] As Tom Stoppard said in an interview, “I must say I didn’t know what the word ‘existential’ meant until it was applied to Rosencrantz. And even now existentialism is not a philosophy I find either attractive or plausible. But it’s certainly true that the play can be interpreted in existential terms, as well as in other terms.”[49]

Many of the Absurdists were contemporaries with Jean-Paul Sartre, the philosophical spokesman for Existentialism in Paris, but few Absurdists actually committed to Sartre’s own Existentialist philosophy, as expressed in Being and Nothingness, and many of the Absurdists had a complicated relationship with him. Sartre praised Genet’s plays, stating that for Genet “Good is only an illusion. Evil is a Nothingness which arises upon the ruins of Good”

Existential Theory

Existential ideas:


Freedom and Responsibility:


One cannot enjoy the benefits of freedom without also being responsible, and yet many people spend a lot of time running from the responsibilities being free entails. Being an authentic person entails choosing to become someone who lives with their beliefs firmly expressed and acknowledged. People can avoid responsibility by merely conforming to cultural expectations and mores by affirming a kind of blind allegiance to various organizations and institutions including politics and religion and their group mindset. This is not to say that being dedicated to either of these are bad. In fact, often they can lead to very positive outcomes. The problem comes with it being blind allegiance. This occurs when a person gives up their responsibility to critically analyze their own beliefs, perspectives, and values that make up the organization. When this happens, the individual’s values are no longer authentic, they are accepted without scrutiny.


What occurs in this scenario might be questioned however when it comes to how some of the followers adhere only partially to the rules of the group. Some might pick and choose their beliefs dependent upon their own values and mores. The opposite belief can occur too when others become very rigid in their views and not willing to bend on any facet of their beliefs. There must be a kind of middle way in order for people to be free agents when it comes to their beliefs. It is also necessary to mention that many people give their power over to another person, ideal or group and feel powerless or victimized as a result. Again, this leads to loss of freedom and responsibility, as it is turned over to another segment of the population.


Psychologist Otto Rank mentions “the degree which we are unaware of how our drives, instincts, unconscious, and environment are influencing us, they control us. However, if a person chooses not to be aware of these influences, even if done so passively or unconsciously, a choice has still been made.”  We often do not think we have made a choice about things, but by not choosing to do things differently, or not choosing, we choose. Self- awareness is necessary to live in accordance with these principles. However, lack of self- awareness is not an acceptable excuse for a person’s behavior, as many would like to think. Once we know something we are responsible for it, and oftentimes, we are responsible for things we may not know in totality.


Death, Human Limitation, and Finiteness: Death is not totally a physical idea, but is also symbolic. When change is forced upon us in life, through a divorce or major illness the “death” of the old self gives way to a newer more authentic “you”. It is through examination forced upon us in these times that we grow the most and make those connections we are too busy to make otherwise.






One needs to have a dialog with the idea of death in order not to fear it, as it is an inevitable consequence of life. Living oblivious to the reality of death or human limitation is equally as destructive as to live in constant fear of its existence. To live a truly authentic and genuine life, one must face the reality of death and limitation, even though it is a societal fear.



Author Paul Tillich explains that to “truly embrace being (or our life) the reality of non-being must be faced.” This powerful conception takes the issue much deeper to include the fact that death must entail not only the ending of physical life, but the possibility of us becoming a nonbeing. While the possibility of nonbeing is not intended to deny the possibility of life after death, it brings with it the potential for a deeper understanding of our essential being.


I have always believed that to truly live one must open oneself up to truly dying. A common phrase or cliché that is used within existential therapy at times is ‘what would you do if you knew you were going to die next week or next month? How would you live differently?’  What if you could live forever? In general, the most common response is “I would start to take my loved ones for granted.” The other response which occasionally comes up is “then I could start really investing in the relationship because I’d no longer be afraid of losing them.” Depends on how one views the “glass” as being half empty or half full.




Isolation and Connectedness: Empathy vs sympathy is the starting point of this discussion. When we are sympathetic, we tell someone we are sorry, but we come from an unknowing emotional understanding. Empathy is emotional; it is a feeling of understanding. When one empathizes, they really feel the person’s pain and understand their heartache. There is a connection that sympathy does not give a person. Since we usually do not live in isolation there is a need for connection on a deeply spiritual level. Existence is less meaningful when there is no one to share it with.


Meaning vs. Meaninglessness: the key component to existential theory is making meaning in life. “Man cannot endure his own littleness unless he can translate it into meaningfulness on the largest possible level” (Becker). There are some theorists who have broken down meaning into three groups: False Meaning, Transitory Meaning, and Ultimate Meaning.


False meaning could be described as myths without any healing or sustaining power and is typically destructive. At times, they may help people copy and maybe survive, but they have no power to address the meaning of existence. Money, power or sex are three examples of false meaning. They are false because they are transitory and do not always enduring, even though all of us seek one or more of the three at some point in life.


Transitory meanings help us cope, but cannot help for us to transcend as they lack the ability to address the existential issues. However, these are not as destructive in nature as the false meanings can be.  Working, service and leadership, education, self- growth and awareness are all values, but not meanings to an end. This type of meaning may facilitate growth and lead to ultimate meaning but, by themself are not ultimately meaningful. It would appear many of the things we seek to make meaning are only stepping stones to doing so, not the primary meaning of life.


Ultimate meaning is a type of meaning that aids in transcending the existential issues of death, isolation, freedom, and meaninglessness. Some would maintain that this type of meaning necessitates relationship — with God or with other. However, it is not just relationship that achieves ultimate meaning, but a type of relationship. This involves a way of being in relationship that is ultimately meaningful as an end. The assumption ultimate meaning seems to hold that the relationship does not include relationship with self. This intentionally contradicts the common American value of individualism and self-sufficiency.  Ultimate meaning necessitates an “other” and assumes that humans are relational beings. However, the other is left very open so as to be able to include God, other people, animals, and potentially even nature.




Emotions, Experience, and Embodiment :


Beauty and joy come from fully experiencing life — both the good and the bad experiences. Joy is often interpreted as a state of bliss devoid of any negative experience, but in reality,  joy really is a state of fully experiencing the current moment including the good and the bad. Joy may contain pieces of sadness, of anxiety, or even of anger. When one aspect of experience is being blocked then joy is then limited.


A similar application could be made with suffering. Suffering is generally made worse and/or prolonged when it is resisted and often becomes less threatening when a person allows themselves to experience it. Beauty is best experienced, seen, or created in the context of fully experiencing life’s emotions. Most artists know is a connection between the emotions and creativity. Many artists will fear losing their pain for fear that it would take away their creativity and their art. The beauty of their creation is more valuable because of the pain of their experience. Some of the most beautiful art of all time came from anguished artists, this makes us look at the value of the more seemingly negative experiences we have in a totally new light.


Much of this information is extrapolated from a website available at:






Yazgi or “Fate”.

Is life meaningless? Musa thinks so. He is not stirred up by death, violence, adultery or persecution. He even confesses to murders he does not do. Life is a bleak and dull existence in his world, but it suits him, he does not care what others think, does not believe in God, or even himself. There is nothing but absurdity, and he is convicted by his strange moral behaviors.

Taking the Albert Camus novel “The Stranger” and utilizing the skeleton of the story, the Turkish director weaves a tale of intrigue and woe in this existential masterpiece. The key scene at the end of the movie pits the prosecutor and the convicted man in a simple exchange that is interrupted by a man who must come in to fix the door to the office as the bolt is useless. Juxtaposing the two men in a life and death conversation as the man does his maintenance offers us just how absurd the conversation becomes moment by moment. There are some differences in the stories, most especially that the protagonist does not get the death sentence. And the purpose of Camus’s part two was to illustrate how ineffective the judicial system was at the time, whereas this one is more about the absurdist’s view of life.

Absurdism is an offshoot of existential theory. The meaning of existence in absurdism is only in relation to the individual, not the collective. There is no meaning to life, life is meaning, as defined by the living. And so, it is useless to worry needlessly over the actions of others, that is their own contrived meaning to their lives. We can see in this movie that Musa is not fazed by his mother’s death, his neighbor’s violence, his co-workers interest in getting married, and his realization that she is cheating on him. He is nonresponsive to all of it, but curiously, he also does not fight against the allegations that he killed his bosses’ family, when clearly it was his boss who admitted the deed. After 6 years he is exonerated, even then showing no emotion at being let back to society. When he returns home, as though he had never left it, his wife makes him his coffee and even the sight of a small child under the age of 5 does not bother him in any way. The viewer who may not realize the reason behind his malaise believes he must be mentally ill and of course he is an odd specimen of a man in society.

The key existential question here seems to focus on meaning in life separate from the “other” and only for ones-self. If we all behaved this oddly and coldly, we would be ostracized, yet each of the character’s in the film have their own existential crisis’s and quirks in behavior. Because none of them exhibits what is considered “normal” behavior, they are all representations of their own personal choices and societies expectations are laid upon them. The question of “God” is brought up in both the film and the book, although in the book Meursault eventually rails at a priest who wishes him to conform before he meets his maker. In the film, he has an existential dialog with the judge who cannot conceive of Musa’s non-acceptance of a supreme being, Musa is so non-confrontational he is practically asleep in his answers of “I don’t know”, and “It does not mean anything to me” attitude.


The encyclopedia of philosophy explains the difference between absurdism and existentialism in the following way: “The absurd is born out of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.”  Sartre indicated that “humanity must live in a world that is and will forever be hostile or indifferent towards them. “ His belief was that the universe will never truly care for humanity the way we would like it to. Further explanation would indicate that an atheist view of the world is described as one where people create either stories or Gods, to fill a void in their lives or to as satisfy their needs. Absurdist’s do not need to know if everything has a purpose or not, they simply exist in the world making meaning  for themselves, if they feel it is something they need to do, not have to do. While existentialism need not be a part of the absurdist view, it is a close “cousin” to this philosophical style.

The title of the film is “Fate” in Turkish. I believe many people feel as though the hand of fate dictates their own lives and one cannot escape its hold. In this case, Musa is fated to be jailed and convicted; he does nothing to fight against his fate, which he believes is sealed. Just the same way he writes a letter for his friend, and shoots a gun at the whore’s brothers in the movie, his decision making skills are not based on logic, or emotion, but seem to emanate from his careless disregard for his life and the lives of others.

Existentialism and the Meaning of Life

One of the things we all ask ourselves at one time or another is what the meaning of life is? Some might say it is loving and being loved. Others view the earth as a huge spiritual school in which we all learn and grow through experiences-good and bad. For those that believe in reincarnation, it is a stepping stone to growth so we may eventually not have to incarnate into the world again!


The key to discussing and viewing existential films is to examine nature of existence through a lens one may not experience personally, but views in a film, reads in a book or watches through the eyes of a friend.


Some of you know my friend Debi who has had existential crises through the illness of her granddaughter. Her view on life would decidedly be different than ours due to the magnitude of her granddaughters suffering and her resolve to pull her through 6 transplants at the age of 9.


Viktor Frankl’s work “Man;s Search for Meaning” is an example of an existential crisis, as evidenced by a mans suffering at the hands of the Nazi’s in a concentration camp, and his consequential resolve not to let himself be beaten by their treatment of him. Frankl explains that no one can take away our memories, even if they succeed in taking everything else from us.


Camus’s book “The Stranger” is an odd book for many to read as the protagonist is an absurdist. The first part of the book sets up the second part of the book, whereby people judge us forour character instead of the crimes we commit.


What is your existential moment? When did you question your place in the world and what your life meant?


Another wonderful book is “The Death of Ivan Ilych” by Tolstoy. Although we know the protagonist will die, we see the process he goes through in order to come to terms with his life and what it means to him. Yes, these books are not particularly “cheerful”, but examining ones life is not necessarily a cheerful experience, and to neglect taking time to reflect on it, we lose out on extrapolating meaning that comes in suffering and do not always show gratitude for the good times.


I Heart Huckabees.

This film is the ultimate parody on the meaning of life.It is however fashioned rather expertly with two differing philosophies: transcendentalism and absurdist/nilhistic ideals. The way that the meaning is ascribed to life can be a positive one, or a more negative one. This depends on your idea of the way the world works. The movie moves through many philosophical ideas such as meaningful coincidences, rejection of the ego filtration of the masses and comes to an enlightenment of sorts of the protagonist who comes to an epiphany when he synthesizes the two ideas in to his own philosophical conclusions.

One of the most compelling words in the script is the idea that no one ever chooses to examine their lives unless something comes along that makes them do it, then afterwards, they forget all about it. This could not be more spot on. We often are taken to the depths of  despair before we closely look at what works and does not work in our lives and how we deal with it.

Deconstructing life is a key component in this film as is the idea we are all connected to each other. This is part of the dilemma of the existentialist who seeks meaning to his or her life, but in turn finds that it is not life that has meaning, but meaning that is life. Another memorable quote is given by the nilhist “It is inevitable to be drawn back into human drama. ” As humans we know easily done, particularly if there is a pattern in a relationship that makes it difficult to ignore.

The discussion at the dinner table with Albert and the “Christians” was most telling in its inability to compromise:

Mrs. Hooten: Albert, what brought you to the philosophical club?
Albert Markovski: You mean the existential detectives?
Mr. Hooten: Sounds like a support group.
Cricket: Why can’t he use the church?
Mrs. Hooten: Sometimes, people have additional questions to be answered.
Cricket: Like what?
Albert Markovski: Well, um, for instance: if the forms of this world die, which is more real, the me that dies or the me that’s infinite? Can I trust my habitual mind, or do I need to learn to look beneath those things?

Why does existential curiosity seem to engender such a response from those who are religious? Why is it that they seem to feel threatened?


The blanket description in the film is particularly effective in explaining how we are all connected, in my estimation. If we all exist under the same “blanket” it shows we are one in the same situation. If we connect the blanket idea to the world, the universe it shows the interstices of time and space and oneness. The rest is just material world and exists “out there” and is not aligned with the meaning we seek. The meaning we seek then is why we exist and what things that surround us has to say to us, or as Albert says: “Everything is the same, even if it’s different. ”

So what kind of existential experience did you have by watching this movie. The fact it was filmed as a comedy means that people are not always serious about looking into the meaning of their lives and need something to assuage their existential angst!