“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome” Isaac Asimov In the East, birds depart. In the West, they return. This much I gathered, following a strange coincidence where I watched three films in two days, all heavy with symbolism about death and religion. Though it has surely crossed my mind, I have never sat and thought about death – why or what happens next. Like love and life, the other two big contenders, death has certainly inspired many authors, directors, poets, artists and singers, among others. For me, death is simply the end of life, just as anything else ends. I accept ignorance on this particular topic because I think that is – perhaps, fortunately – the only alternative we have. I think people try to discover more and be less afraid of something that is unreachable – death – perhaps missing the point that it is meant to be this way, that it is impossible to “know” in advance. In fact, what are not certain are the other two main contenders, life and love. Yet, people tend to think about and be fearful of the certain (i.e. death) and call it “uncertainty.” As Epicurus said, “as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.” It all began with Departures (A Japanese Academy Award 2009 winner) which was a beautiful film about “celebrating” death, and how the reminder of death makes you more alive. The death rituals, in which the protagonist takes part, bring him back to life. In the film, death is simply departure from life while the true protagonist is life. More specifically, an openness to life, in the more concrete aspects of work, people, relationships and the more abstract love, faith, solitude. The film shows that life has no predictable formula. Talent that does not become vocation is not wasted. Enjoyment of life does not rely on an avoidance of physical death. And perhaps that spiritual and mental death should cause more terror. That death, when it comes, can even be celebrated. Although painful, it
may not be final. In one particular scene, as someone’s body is cremated, a flock of birds fly into the sky. We will never know whether this is one - or the - likely end. But, then again, not knowing the details in advance leaves us some ground to be creative. Also, it should let us concentrate on things that we can do while alive, namely the question of actually “being alive.” Unlike death, this is one thing we can attempt to influence with our actions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g91OXPBWrFw My strange cinematic journey continued the next day with the viewing of The Broken Circle Breakdown, a Belgian Academy Award 2012 nominee. The level of both life and death here is astounding. The joy of love, music, humor, passion, spontaneity is inspiring. And the several deaths which take place heartbreaking. Also, the bird-death symbolism reached new heights here. Dead birds as an omen of imminent death. Birds flying as reincarnations of people who died. And finally, bird tattoos. “The Broken Circle Breakdown” is so close to being called a “tearjerker” simply because there is no way out of crying. But, unlike other films in that genre, it’s anything but shameless. There are some doses of hilarity, especially regarding bird episodes, debated between a categorically non-religious husband and a “softer” wife. As you‘ll hopefully see or have seen, their simple conversation on birds gives way to their differing, or gradually divergent, views on life, death, and religion. Throughout the film, birds are responsible for making them feel closer and pulling them apart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPzSFkLchxM We come to the end of my strange marathon with Wong Kar Wai’s Days of Being Wild, the first in his trilogy including two of my favorite films about love: In the Mood for Love and 2046. A young, rebellious, careless man is loved unconditionally by three female characters, his adoptive mother and his two, diametrically opposite, girlfriends. Yet, he, both excessively imprisoned and free, is unable to return this love. Actually, he fears love more than death, something that is evidenced in all he does, his routine, even in the way he moves. When describing his life and perhaps justifying his sense of invincibility, the main character refers to a bird without legs which, in their absence, can never land on the ground. We see aerial views of a jungle. It's the protagonist, a wild bird, flying free. Landing is certain death. And this character avoids death, but not the physical. He wants to live, and he may be doing it wrongly and he’ll surely suffer for it. Yet, he has enough life in him to supply all who surround him. He lives every minute of it, as a clock illustrates throughout much of the film. It seems as though, this "high" life comes from his fearlessness of physical death. But, the opposite is true. His love of life makes him fearless of death. "Look at my watch" - he says to the girl "Why should I?" - she says "Just one minute" - he says There is this magical moment. You feel how long, how meaningful a minute can be. And how terrifying letting it pass, unacknowledged. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcNtW-enyjo For a related essay on the stunted love affair between the protagonists of "2046", click here.