The Search

A movie review I wrote way back in August 2013 (with some edits):

I watched The Bothersome Man, an unrated Norwegian film. The film’s protagonist, Andreas (Trond Fausa Aurvåg), finds himself in a clean, efficient city after being dropped off by a bus at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. He’s given a job as an accountant, and a clean and efficient apartment which comes fully furnished, to include a wardrobe full of clean, efficient suits. His co-workers are polite and well-groomed.

Andreas’s first clue that something is wrong with this new world happens when he finds himself in the men’s room of a nightclub. An unseen man in a stall laments loudly, sadly that no matter how he drinks he can’t get drunk. He complains that hot chocolate no longer tastes or smells good. Andreas, curious about this sad man, follows him home to where the man lives in a basement apartment.

The movie progresses, and Andreas moves from one scene to the next, becoming more aware that no one around him has any real passion for life. The most common adjective used to describe things is “nice”. Andreas’s girlfriend Anne (Petronella Barker) says he’s nice. He has nice conversations with nice people, usually about the nice things they can buy from nice catalogs. Andreas and his girlfriend have nice furniture. Their meals are nice. When Andreas starts an affair with a lady in his office, she also informs Andreas that he is nice. In fact, he’s just as nice as all her other boyfriends. Even in the most intimate of relationships, one person is just as nice as the next.

Driven to the point of despair, Andreas tries to commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train. Not to give too much more of the movie away, but it doesn’t work. He limps out of the tunnel, is picked up by the ubiquitous jump-suited men who patrol the city, and is taken to Anne’s house. He stands there, broken and bleeding, and Anne informs him they have a date to go ride go-carts.

Andreas lives in a utilitarian world, where everyone’s happiness is maximized, but where there is no yearning for the true, the good, or the beautiful. Indeed, expressing such yearning is met with disapproval. Andreas confesses to his boss that he misses seeing children (for there are no children in a clean, efficient city). The only response Andreas gets is to be quickly ignored, as if he had just said something that no one would ever admit in polite company.

The real world — the world in which at least some things are genuinely and objectively true, good, and/or beautiful — is not a clean, efficient, polite place that can be described by so weak a word as nice. The real world is glorious and tragic and scary and awe-inspiring and depressing and wonderfully full of such a mess of thoughts, sights, sounds, and experiences. The classical liberal arts embrace this apparent chaos, and seek to find the order beneath the mess of contradictions.

I often remind myself, and I remind my students, the search isn’t without hope. Through the proper use of reason, we can discover the true, the good, and the beautiful, and we can at least begin to understand that those three qualities are not always a matter of mere opinion. Some things are truly true, truly good, truly beautiful, and to disagree about those things isn’t to express an opinion. To disagree is to be wrong.

The search for the true, the good, and the beautiful isn’t easy. Many people give up after one too many disappointments. But, I am reminded of the words of a wise man. To paraphrase, those that seek without surrender will eventually find what they’re looking for.

June 23rd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

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