Thursday, September 3, 2009

wikus and the theory of emptiness

j, my man of the moon, alerted me to the movie district 9. he said the trailer looked cool. i was intrigued (j downloads movies like a maniac so he has somewhat a film opinion credence), but had to check the reviews before i spent my hard earned money to yet another CGI fest devoid of insight and heart.

rotten tomatoes, with their coterie of snotty film critics gave district 9 an 89%. and while there were raving reviews, i noticed that most stopped short and just gave the premise. an alien ship ‘landed’ (this in itself is a weird concept because the extra-terrestrial vessel stopped and just hovered in the air) on top of johannesburg and humans set up a place for them to stay called – district 9, and what ensues are problems emanating from the human-alien interaction. further, the consensus was 'technically brilliant and emotionally wrenching'.

a critically-acclaimed alien movie set in the city where i lived for 5 years – i guess my watching it was a shoo-in.

so after a real shitty day at work me, jp and my blogfriend id headed off to gayteway. after watching, the 3 of us agreed that it was a brilliant film. those who know us would say this is rare.

the erstwhile mr. scheez once asked me if i can review a movie. i said many bloggers are already doing this and i can’t see what i can possibly contribute. truth be told, i hate spoilers.

still i’d like to talk about the protagonist of the movie, wikus - an unlikely anti-hero. he was white (which in south africa, given its history is, in itself, enough to make you an antagonist), tacky, cheesy and, well – a jerk. so much so that many reviews said that the movie was marred by its unlikeable lead character. however, after all the trials and tribulations his character arc is one of the most compelling and believable reel transformations i’ve seen for some time. so much so that i bought the whole idea of he who relished incinerating alien embryos will risk his life and go between bullets and missiles and their target to save an alien father and son.

this got me to thinking about the whole question of real life heroes and villains. good people and bad people. are they a product of what is inherently virtuous or evil in their character? or are they just objects playing into the circumstances that they find themselves in?

the theory of emptiness contends (and i quote the dalai lama himself here) that any belief in an objective reality grounded in the assumption of intrinsic, independent existence is untenable. all things and events whether material, mental or abstract, are devoid of objective independent existence. everything is composed of dependently related events of continuously interacting phenomena with no fixed immutable essence, which are in themselves in constantly changing dynamic relations. things and events are ‘empty’ in that they do not possess any immutable essence, intrinsic reality or absolute being that affords independence. (what?)

if i haven’t lost you yet what i think this means is that if this is true, then there are no heroes or villains just heroic or villainous events that cause people to act and react a certain way or the other.

this, of course, leads to the question, who or what, then decides which of us gets to be put to one event that builds our character or leads us to damnation?

all my life i have fancied myself a good person. a good son, a devoted lover, a hardworking employee and a loyal friend. this thinking humbles me into reflecting that maybe it’s so because i have been fortunate to have had a loving mother, a committed lover, a host of interesting jobs and many, many steadfast friends.

and then there are times when i can be a vindictive, cruel, unkind bitch many gay guys can only hope (and quite often dream) to be. and i can allude to many hateful persons, circumstances or events that has made me, in a number of instances, somebody worthy of unimaginable self-loathing.

and here’s the mindfuck. following the (lack of) logic of the theory of emptiness people, cirumstances and or events that affected me are, in themselves, not innately good or bad. to think so will assume an intrinsic reality, which does not exist. my mind reels just trying to write this.

so what begets what? does anything beget anything? who knows? does it really matter?

here’s my take. wikus got it rough. i’m just glad i don’t have to interact with creatures from another world, and just look at those in my immediate vicinity in order to recognise my dues to those who have caused me to be me: hero and villain both.


kawadjan said...

OMG, you're back.

I'm like actually eating a bagel (carbs!) to celebrate your return.

And I truly love this post, kahit dumugo ang nose koh. As usual, isang matalinghaga at makabuluhang diskusyon ang nilathala mo. You're really living up to your reputation as the most profound gay blogger in Quezon City.

On that note, welcum vack.

id said...

good and bad are subjective concepts, and very dependently so on from whose perspective. character is character, and you build other people's idea of your character based on a sequence of your similar behavior.

so kung taruj ka, keber na- magalit ang magagalit at matuwa na lang ang matutuwa.

love it, kiel...

kiel estrella said...

@ kawadjan - carbs?! i'm so disillusioned to see another waif go done the lard drain. ahahaha. thanks for telling me i'm profound. tse!

@ id - at least subjective lang ang pagiging evil mo, divah? haha

line of flight said...

You have correctly stated the concept of emptiness as I understand it (as a practicing Buddhist/Buddhist scholar). It is not a theory but a consequence of the dependent origination of all phenomena. That is, any object or phenomenon that we perceive to exist only exists because of the phenomena that it depends upon for its existence.

For example, a table does not exist except for the wood or other material that constitutes it and the woodsperson or miner who extracted the material from nature, the craftsperson who manufactured the raw material into the finished product. The table then is empty because it lacks inherent self-existence. The wood itself and the people whose labor makes the table also have constituent elements that constitute them each as well with an ever complexifying web of causes and conditions presupposing them. It will also at some point cease to be a table. All phenomena which are conditioned and lack inherent existence are necessarily impermanent. Emptiness is the consequence of the nature of reality.

But this does not invalidate our experience, it just points out the misleading nature of reality. The oft-quoted passage from the Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra: "Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. Form is no other than emptiness. Emptiness is no other than form." encapsulates the idea well.

On Kyusi Reader's review of District 9, I quoted Jung: "The ‘other’ in us always seems alien and unacceptable; but if we let ourselves be aggrieved the feeling sinks in, and we are the richer for this little bit of self-knowledge."

With respect to the question of ethics and morals, this also from Jung: "We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself. He is the great danger, and we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man, far too little. His psyche should be studied, because we are the origin of all coming evil."

kiel estrella said...

@ lof - buddhist ka pala. wow. i'm just reading the dalai lama recently and realising how its thinking/philosophy resonates with mine. cool. thanks for the comment. ill need some time to think about all of the things you said. will get back to you on that. haha

line of flight said...

hahaha. i find talking about these things helps my own understanding. how selfish of me! hahah.

merman said...

bumalik ka na!!!

lurve tha movie, too. though i watched sa Shop. got the pirated copy this weekend and enjoyed wikus.

see you soon, my friend. today is paige's bday, pala.

Mr. Scheez said...

sayang, i missed this film. maganda rin ang reviews sa, tatay.

fuchsiaboy said...

alam ko you're an antagonist in kawadjan's life so you're no saint after all.

but who will tell him that his going down fat limbo if not you, non?

and for that reason I think you're an angel with predilection for giving movie reviews complete with spiritual discourse, self introspection and a punch right back to make your readers question their very own selfworth.

very maison martin margiela artisanal collection ;)

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