Do pure chance
and accidents lead our lives or are they filled with deep purpose and
destiny? This has been the question posed on our minds while watching
the films Grand Canyon, Ground Hog Day, and Dickens’s Christmas
Carol. How large a role do the cosmos play in our everyday lives? Do
they even care about our fates? Even yet, do these so-called cosmos,
higher power, or whatever one might chose to call it even exist? If
there s not an ultimate source guiding us and giving our lives
meaning, then what are we working towards? Why are we even here? Why
were we born? Why do we die? What in the world are we supposed to do
with the time in between? There are so many more questions and even
more theories on how to answer them. The films mentioned above and
their corresponding stories hit on a few of these theories as I will
discuss in further detail.
Both the story
of Gilgamesh and the film Grand Canyon deal with a loss of innocence
. In the film, the cosmos don t seem to care all that much about Mac
when he is almost robbed on the street corner of a bad neighborhood.
Lucky for him Simon shows up just in the nick of time and after a
life threatening talk with the muggers Simon drives Mac to safety in
his tow truck. Whereas in the beginning the cosmos seemed impervious
one could now argue that they were the ones who sent Simon to the
rescue before any harm came to Mac. The cosmos had destined these two
men to meet and the odd circumstances simply made the encounter more
meaningful. Or of course as I said before Mac just lucked out.
Nonetheless, this is where Mac s loss of innocence took place. This
loss of innocence is of course in the metaphoric sense of the word
because no doubt a man in his mid forties would ve lost his innocence
long ago. For the first time he came face to face with the
possibility of death.
Gilgamesh also was forced to come to terms with death but in a
different way. In Mac s case its hard to be sure what role the cosmos
played, while in Gilgamesh s tragedy the cosmos were directly
responsible as they struck Enkidu with an illness which took his
life. He is overtaken with grief for his friend but also for himself
because he realizes he too will someday die. As Mac did, Gilgamesh
now looses his innocence as he falls into the consciousness of
At this point
both men decide its time to take full advantage of their lives,
although in different manners. Mac has an overwhelming need to
befriend and thank Simon in everyway possible for saving his life. He
even goes as far as finding Simon the woman of his dreams. Somewhat
ironically Simon and Mac become close friends, much like Gilgamesh
and Enkidu had been. After being so close to death Mac embraces life
and attempts to mend past mistakes. Gilgamesh on the other hand
refuses to accept death and goes on a quest to find a cure to human
mortality. He found it and just as quickly he lost it. A reason for
this could be perhaps because his search was a selfish one. In the
end this great king died like all other mortals, such was his
destiny; everlasting life was not his destiny . If all the other men
from the films and stories had figured out this simple fact this
could be the end of this essay, but no such luck and so we continue.
Phil from the film Ground Hog Day and the Buddha quite a few
similarities become evident. At some point they both find themselves
searching for the meaning of life, imagine that. How they get there
is somewhat different though. Both were celebrities in a way. The
Buddha was a prince while Phil was a reporter who carried himself as
though he was a prince. Buddha was to succeed his father and become
king. His father also wished him to live a perfect life free of
suffering therefore Buddha was confined to the palace walls where he
could lead a pleasurable life and be protected. This living
arrangement soon backfired though because everybody knows curiosity
killed the cat so to no surprise Buddha wanted to know what the world
was like outside the palace gates. What he found when he ventured out
in the real world was not what he expected. After three journeys he
discovered old age, sickness and death. It was way too much for him
to bear. Upon returning to the palace he was unable to enjoy his
riches now that he had knowledge of the suffering of the world. So,
like all the greats, he set out on a quest for an answer to the
problem of mortality.
Phil, on the
other hand, had no choice. His quest for meaning in life was thrown
on his lap and there was no way to get rid of it, for a while at
least. Phil had a warped sense of reality to begin with. He wasn t by
any means a people person . Unlike the Buddha, who was compassionate
and selfless from the get go, Phil started out only out for himself.
His outlook in life very likely included the phrase, screw the little
people. This could very well be the reason why destiny trapped Phil
in the same day over and over again. If this was not destiny s work
trying to teach a selfish man a lesson what other explanation is
there? After many unsuccessful suicide attempts, Phil felt no need to
find the answer to mortality like Buddha did. What was the point in
that? He was immortal and he wanted to enjoy by doing as many things
without consequence as possible. No doubt that soon got a tad boring,
which is why he decided to make the most out of the situation. He
made a purpose for himself. Helping those in need became his mission,
after all he did have an eternity to get it right.
Both men finally
reached enlightenment. Buddha sought it out and as had been predicted
by Asita at the time of his birth, became a great world savior when
he reached enlightenment. Although he did die, he did it willingly
having brought salvation to the world in his final entry into Nirvana
and liberation from all death and rebirth. This had been his destiny
all along and he fulfilled it. Phil, on the other hand, was forced to
realize life should be lived to the fullest and once he did he found
his enlightenment and fate released its claws from his life and
allowed him to have a tomorrow.
comparison is between Augustine and Ebenezer Scrooge. The main
similarity found with this pair being that they both undergo a kind
of conversion. Also, in comparison to Buddha and Gilgamesh, Augustine
too goes on a quest for mortality and meaning. Augustine does find an
answer as did Buddha and as does Scrooge also. I found that Scrooge
and Augustine are the most alike of all the comparisons thus far.
Both men were blinded and seduced early in life by what the world
could offer in power and wealth. They both came across some form of
divine intervention, which caused them to desire wisdom and yearn
change in their lives for the better. Linear time is also comparable
between the two men. Augustine divided his life into seven stages,
which mainly consisted of three parts of his life. The first three
stages, infancy, childhood and adolescence, all took place before he
reached the age of nineteen. The next two stages, awakened and
seeking wisdom, begin at age nineteen. Then finally at age 31 comes
finding wisdom, which is only followed by the final stage, death, the
beginning of eternal life. Although he does seem to think there is
meaning to be found, the seven well planned out stages of his life
don t leave much up to chance. Scrooge s experience with the spirits
who aided him in finding newfound meaning in life was also divided
into three parts, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.
Each showed him parts of his life he might ve forgotten or had not
yet been aware of in hopes he would convert and be a better man. One
of the differences between Augustine and Scrooge involves the
circumstances leading to their conversions.
Like the Buddha
and Gilgamesh, Augustine knowingly and by choice sought out the
wisdom of God. Following his conversion he begins to see his life
from a brand new perspective. He examines past events of his life
that at one time seemed random and disconnected and now finds hidden
purpose in them. He finds footprints God has left behind in his
memories, which served as evidence that God had indeed played a major
role in the events of his life. After believing his life to be
aimless, faith in life having meaning gave him a purpose.
Scrooge was not
so quick to welcome his spiritual awakening with open arms. He most
definitely didn t ask for it or want it for that matter. Like Phil s
endless repeating day, the spirits forced their way, uninvited into
Scrooge s life, forcing him to take a step back and evaluate his
actions throughout the years. The ghost of Christmas past made him
take close look back at his childhood and adolescence, not unlike
Augustine s first stage, and examine past events as they were
retained in his memory. Although his past memories didn t fully
affect him seeing his present and future sure did. He saw the
horrible toll his actions were taking on those around him. Even more
frightening though was the future, where he saw he would die with no
one to love him because he had not allowed himself to love anyone. He
realized he had to change in order to make things right. This
realization exemplifies the Augustinian theme which says, knowledge
of God occurs through self-knowledge. It was destiny and fate
intervening which allowed Scrooge to acquire self-knowledge and thus
convert into the better person he always had the potential of being.
Out of all the
stories and films I d have to say that in my opinion Ground Hog Day
is the one that expresses human destiny and purpose best. In a
twisted way it seems to be the most realistic. Forget for a minute
the impossibility in the film of one day repeating a million times
and focus on Phil and what he has to go through to attain his goal in
the end. Within the constraints of a single day he learns important
life lessons some people don t get to learn in an entire lifetime.
How does he do this? He did it how all human beings have to do things
to get results, through trial and error. He tried killing himself and
that got him nowhere but right back in the bed waking up to the same
song the next morning that he had woken up to the previous one. He
tested the theory of misbehaving because he would never be around the
next day to get in trouble but that got boring. He tried using
gimmicks to win the love of that special women, after having slept
with all the other ones, but that proved to be unrewarding because
the next day he had to start all over again since she had no memory
of the progress they d made the night before. Finally he decided to
stop taking advantage of the situation and start helping people. He
did endless good during his endless days and he found that giving is
sometimes more rewarding than receiving. Phil found meaning and
purpose the hard way like most people have to.
Perhaps the most
inspirational film shown was the short, Buddhism, Man and Nature. It
definitely made me think twice about the way I lead my life. The
music metaphor rang true on so many levels. People walk through life
with so many expectations. They try to find meaning in even the most
meaningless thing. These people think that are certain things that
are supposed to happen and certain things that aren t. Those are the
people that don t see and are unable to appreciate how life is like
music. It has no destination. The comparison still gives me chills. I
honestly came home after class that day and listened to music in a
way that I never had before. I found emerging new beauty in it. In
the film, Alan Watts, the narrator, urges one to stop thinking
because only then might one have something to think about. A perfect
example is in that same phrase. If its overanalyzed its meaning will
surely be lost, but stop thinking about it for a second and it will
all come together clear as day.
So do our lives
consist of merely a series of accidents or does destiny play a role?
I think the truth can be found somewhere in the middle of the two.
There s no reason purpose and meaning can t be found in an act of
pure coincidence, or the other way around. Why do these have to be
battling ideas? In my opinion life can be long, as it can also be
short, both have their ramifications. Regardless, why waste it asking
so many questions? People should sit back and enjoy life because the
truth is some things in life happen by mere chance while some do seem
to have some deeper hidden meaning. Nobody wants to believe that life
is without meaning but people need to realize that not everything
needs to mean something. It s okay if it doesn t; sometimes it might
even be better that way.
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