Saturday, February 16, 2013

Stop the clock

One of my favorite things about the 21st century is the ability I have to say to myself, "I'm going to watch a movie," and then find myself doing just that a few minutes later. Technology has enabled me to be counterproductive in so many ways, but for some reason sitting down to turn on some random independent film on Netflix never feels like a waste. More often than not it feels like the best way to spend my time even if that means shirking my responsibilities.

I chose not to have responsibilities tonight, though, so I end the evening with no regrets. No immediate, short-term regrets anyway.

The movie I watched tonight, which is a topic that may or may not interest you, was called TiMER. The title comes from the name of a company in the movie, which serves as the basis of the whole plot. Here's where an explanation may get tricky, so bear with me and don't zone out.

This TiMER company is a service which provides people with the ability to insert a timer (the business name makes sense now, doesn't it?) into their wrist which will count down the days until they meet their soulmate. Once they do meet their soulmate, the timer will make a distinctive alarm noise so that the interaction is unmistakable.

The catch is that if a potential soulmate does not have a timer, then the person with the timer will have a blank countdown. Does that make sense? Roundabout phrasing throwing you off? If so, watch the movie because my incoherent mind will inevitably screw things up further should I try to clarify.

I didn't know what to think of this film early on. It seemed predictable. At times it was. Characters would be introduced and I'd anticipate how they would factor into the story. There were still little elements of surprise here or there, and with a sort of inconclusive ending, TiMER actually does serve to impress.

What impressed me the most though was what I took away from it. As I've discovered recently in myself, I may not always be the type to critique films the way other people do. If I'm writing a review, of course I take on an opinion in regards to the film I'm critiquing and I try to support it with evidence. But when watching films recreationally, I try not to pick them apart, looking for shortcomings and complaining about missed opportunities for improvement. I also do not excitedly praise successes. I do, however, try and take away meaning or significance as best I can.

I think the principle behind this is that if I've sat down to watch an entire movie, I must have been enjoying it on some level. It's not an assignment, so why would I bear an entire film if I don't find it engaging?

Anyway, the point is not how I watch films. I would like to tell you specifically about what I perceived as the meaning behind TiMER.

In the film, one of the characters has chosen to remove her timer and in a moment of hesitation, the protagonist questions whether or not she should remove her timer as well.

The protagonist asks, "Question: Do you think the timer actually works, or is it just a self-fulfilling prophecy?"

The other character answers, "The chicken.. the egg.. It's all a big cluster f**k."

Why did I latch onto this scene and these quotes in particular? I think it has something to do with that desire to find meaning in every film I take time out of my day to see.

The guiding principle behind this movie is the belief that it is a good idea to essentially tell your own future, to predict the eventual finding of a soulmate and let it happen according to some pre-ordained plan. It becomes stifling to some of the characters, one because she may never find a soulmate and another because her soulmate may not be arriving for many many years.

It raises the question of whether it's important in the first place to know about these things, to anticipate them. Do we really need to know whether we'll find true love?

Within the characters' minds, this anxiety manages to twist and contort itself into a need for relationships at present, however dysfunctional they may be. They look for love-less sex, short-term flings, forgetting that by predicting their own futures they're only putting off the inevitable.

Were in their place, I don't know that I would have gotten a timer to begin with. It's like that age old survey question - if you could find out when and how you would die, would you do it?

With reasonable certainty, I've always answered "no." I don't know that I could live my life the way I want to knowing how it would end. In the same way, I don't know that I could adequately look for or judge love if I always had a timer on my wrist telling me whether or not it was real.

So how would I know when the (literal) time came, that I had actually found a soulmate? If I had no basis for judgment on it - no failed attempts because I'd spent so much time waiting for that someone - then what would the term "soulmate" even mean? How could these characters know? And how do they feel being virtually forced into falling for someone they've just met because they heard some ridiculous beeping coming from a device transplanted into their body?

These aren't just science fiction-y questions, either. The issue is one that pervades our lives as well. If we have never found our soulmate, how can we be sure that anyone we ever become involved with is our "soulmate"? They say that when you fall in love, you know it instantly. It's incontrovertible. Well is that the principle behind finding someone to spend your life with? Or is it just a shot in the dark?

Sometimes these questions make me feel like such a cynic about romance. If I was deflecting blame, I could just say it was because I watch too many dark movies. I've seen so many failed attempts on screen of couples trying to make their romance work and then seeing their efforts collapse around them. What is there to believe in any more?

Maybe there is nothing to believe in, and maybe that's what makes it all the more special if and when fate does occur. All my life I've assumed that certain things were inevitable - finding love, getting married, things like that. But what if I stopped assuming that anything was going to happen and just let the wind take me wherever?

It may be crazy, but I think with that frame of mind the probability of success is much higher.

So one of my favorite things about the 21st century is that I have the ability to watch all these amazing (and random) films that teach me virtues that I can apply to my own life. But in the same way, it's these films that disenfranchise me, making me analyze love in such a way that I place too much thought into it and thus come out with nothing. With knowledge comes burden, I suppose, and that's the cross I bear.

More than clarity, perhaps, I want to see where all these thoughts take me. I do not need to know the future, but I'd like to see in time how it plays out. Hopefully well. That's all I ask for.

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