Friday, March 26, 2010
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
When I began watching The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I thought I was going to hate it. It was slow moving for me and seemed to have too much overt sexuality. Who wants to watch all of that? But fortunately I kept with it because I thought it would have more to it. By the time the final credits rolled, I felt it was one of the best movies I have seen with a great deal to think about regarding the philosophy of life.
The title itself has been a challenge ever since I saw the film. It seems a contradiction in terms. Unbearable-- Lightness in the same phrase? Its very challenge keeps me thinking and two blogs from now I venture my own opinion on one possible meaning
The story is set in 1968 Prague right before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The reviews I had read said it was about a menage a trois but that is not so. The film, unlike the book, is about three people and their way of dealing with life. First we have Tomas, (Daniel Day Lewis) who is what would politely be called a bounder in that he knows how to get women into bed with him-- not that he cares if they use a bed.
Tomas reminds me of a story we used to talk about with our first bull. He was the main herd bull, experienced in running a herd. We would watch the young bull act all excited at a heifer or cow in heat, while the old bull ambled along. We could almost hear his conversation to the young bull, son, slow down and get them all. He always did.
Now Tomas wasn't old. He was young but he already had the wisdom to get whatever he wanted in a woman. Smooth, sophisticated, no pressure, just that steady, you know you want it. Sex for Tomas is not about emotional connection.
Then there is the beautiful artist, Sabina (Lena Olin), who is his lover and really his soul mate if soul mates are two of a kind. Sabina is free spirited, doesn't desire to possess Tomas, nor does she wish to be tied to anyone herself. I think sex means more to her than to Tomas but it's more about freedom than emotions.
If soulmates are opposites, than he meets his soul mate when he goes to do a surgery in another town and meets Tereza (Juliette Binocht. Tereza is an unexplored woman, follows Tomas into the big city when she realizes he offers her something she has never had. She is repressed but filled with passion and strength of purpose. She just needs to find that purpose.
If one thinks the film is mostly about Tomas, they would be wrong. I left it thinking more and more that women need to be empowered because the two women at its center were very empowered in different ways. That was their beauty. They didn't present one way to be but two different ones of equal strength.
These three people come together with mutual caring and respect, even if not understanding, while Czechoslovakia hovers on the brink and then is crushed by the Soviet Union. It's not even really a war as the Czechs had no ability to wage war with anything but the Molotov cocktails thrown by an angry and frightened populace. That doesn't get you far against tanks.
Despite the increasing pressure from the Soviets, the citizens had not been expecting an invasion. The world would not allow it, they thought. As we have seen time and again, unless the world's oil is at stake, the world doesn't care much about such invasions. Oh they'll talk a bit but they won't go to war over it. The United States was already into the Vietnam War and hardly had time to worry about what happened to people in Eastern Europe especially not after their own long Cold War with the Soviets.
Basically the film is about the conflict between personal desire, private and public morality and social control under an oppressive, totalitarian regime. It shows what the world was like for them before the invasion and what it became under it. Although it's very strongly influenced by its time in history and its place, it is about broader human concepts of integrating into our lives our intentions, chance's role in events, and individual responsibility.
It is based on the book by Milan Kundera which is very philosophical about the nature of human existence and relationships. If you want a film which demands you think, then you would find The Unbearable Lightness of Being to be up your alley.
On the other hand, if nudity and sexual encounters between people make you uncomfortable, then it's one to skip. I felt the sex was not gratuitous nor without purpose but it was there and pretty avant garde for today's American culture which is more comfortable with violence or even the kind of sex people find in a Hooters.
To illustrate how meaningful this film was to me, the next two blogs will go with more depth into the philosophical concepts at the heart of this film about physical, emotional and metaphysical aspects of human existence.