I loved the philosophy in this DVD movie. I didn’t like much else about it, especially the lame title, which features a heart as in “I [heart] New York.” Even Prince has given up on the unpronounceable symbol shtick. The producers of “I Heart Huckabees” should have chosen a title more befitting to the movie.
I don’t know, maybe “The Existential Detectives.” For Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are the centerpieces here. They are two Existential Detectives hired by an environmentalist who is trying to figure out the Meaning Of It All. “All” includes his efforts to save open spaces and his relationship with a spokesman (Jude Law) for Huckabees, a chain of stores which, as Ebert says in the above-linked review, “doesn’t care about the environment, but cares deeply about seeming to care.”
The storyline, acting, and characters in “I Heart Huckabees” didn’t do much for me. However, I got through the 105 movie minutes enjoyably thanks to the philosophical snippets that popped up regularly and roused my interest. I would have enjoyed the movie considerably more if the plot had been dropped completely.
The ideas underlying the plot are compelling. A “My Dinner With Andre”-like conversation about whether the cosmos is (1) a meaningful unity or (2) meaningless chaos awaits another filmmaker. Here Existential Detective Hoffman champions the “all is one” perspective while his nemesis, a French woman played by Isabelle Huppert, puts forth the “all is crap” position.
The phrase “All is crap” doesn’t do justice to the philosophies of Sartre, Camus, and the other existentialists I avidly read during my early college years’ embrace of meaninglessness. But, if I remember correctly, in three words it pretty well sums up thousands of pages of their writings.
Hoffman believes that everything is connected; Huppert believes that everything just is. Where Hoffman enthusiastically sees a reflection of loving cosmic oneness, Huppert (metaphorically) sips her expresso, takes a puff on her unfiltered cigarette, and blows out a smoke-ring with a cynical, “That’s bullshit.”
There are powerful arguments on both sides. That’s what made “I Heart Huckabees” so compelling for me. I wasn’t much interested in how the storyline turned out; I was eager to learn the outcome of the philosophical mano-a-womano. In my opinion, it was a draw. Laurel came away feeling that All is One was the winner.
It could well be that both sides are right: life is meaningless and life is meaningful. Which is true at a given moment just depends on… . Well, if I could replace those three dots with some words, I’d be a happy philosophical camper. I’m still searching for the trail that leads to the campground, so have a long way to go before I’m able to settle into a tent of truth. Sometimes I feel that I’m getting some glimpses of the path ahead, though.
The beginning of “I Heart Huckabees” features some coincidences. Wanting to figure out what those coincidences mean drives the environmentalist to hire the Existential Detectives. They follow him around, observing every detail of his life, on the assumption that if everything is connected, following any single thread of an event could reveal the entire fabric of the cosmos.
After I watched “I Heart Huckabees” I experienced a mild existential coincidence of my own. In the movie a character observes that only 5% of the matter/energy in the universe is recognizable. This is true. Physicists estimate that 70% of the stuff that makes up the universe is dark energy, 20% is dark matter, and just 5% is ordinary matter (“dark” is scientific shorthand for “we don’t know what it is”).
So there I was in my post-movie moment, brushing my teeth before going to bed, reading the February 28, 2005 issue of U.S. News and World Report that I had opened up next to the sink. And in an article called “Mysteries of the Mind” there it was! The 5% solution!
According to cognitive neuroscientists, we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive activity, so most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behavior depends on the 95 percent of brain activity that goes beyond our conscious awareness.
Beautiful. The human mind that only knows about 5% of the stuff in the universe is only aware of 5% of what goes on in itself. Let’s see: 5% times 5% is a quarter of a percent. That seems about right—after ten thousand years or so of civilization Homo sapiens is clued in to about 1/400th of what the cosmos is all about, 0.25%.
No wonder life seems so meaningless so much of the time.
But then…there’s the other 99.75%.
Get a grip on that, even some of that, and I suspect life looks much different.
Bring it on.