Human beings strive to be their better selves and live a better and meaningful lives. People also hold different views when it comes to purpose in life. Over the years, philosophers have endeavored to give meaning to the concept of connection between existence and essence. However, every person defines his or her happiness differently. Human beings therefore always endeavor to shine a light on what they believe in or deem fit for any situation in life. Existentialism is a philosophical term whose theory or approach puts the reason for the existence of human beings at the center stage. It is a theory that analyses why human beings exist in the world. Existentialism can influence our lives in ways we cannot imagine. All human beings want to live a good life, if not better. The basic principle of the theory of existentialism is that human beings come into existence first and later in their lives, struggle or endeavor to change their nature (Anderson 2011).
Existentialism is therefore concerned with human beings finding their true self, their meaning in life through free will choices and individual responsibilities as Jean-Paul stated, man, is what he makes of himself, and nothing else. However, when one commits him or herself to anything, he or she also commits to the value of freedom. For example, an individual may choose to marry his or her lover, but in so doing, one commits to monogamy (Anderson 2011). Consequently, the decision or choice that a person takes wholesomely creates a set of rules and principles for all. Some basic lessons that can be learnt from Ingmar Bergman’s fantasy film The Seventh Seal and Paul Schrader’s Affliction on existentialism include: our lives are what we make them to be, one needs to make tough decisions, we ought to find and realize our meaning and purpose in life, decisions we make have consequences, self-actualization as important as life itself, life provides many choices.
There is no room for making mistake in life
The decision an individual makes according to this theory is as a result of different ideas and circumstances one finds himself or herself in. Also, existentialism provides no room for one to make mistakes- life is not a rehearsal for how to live later. Phenomenology of consciousness states that neither the metaphysical structure nor casual beginnings of things are of importance, but the constitution of the meanings they carry. Existentialism postulates that when one makes a mistake, he or she has no one to blame but himself or herself. Therefore, this theory does not believe in fortune and misfortune. An individual cannot, therefore, say they have had bad or good luck.
Life is full of anxiety and nothingness
A lesson that can be learnt from existentialism theory from Leo Tolstoy’s My Confession is that life is full of anxiety and nothingness. In addition, the theme of fear or dread comes into play. One dominant question individuals seek answers to according to the existentialism theory is whether (their) life is meaningful. Individuals therefore ask themselves questions such as “Who am I?” People question their meaning and purpose in life. Existentialism helps us answer such questions. In his book, My Confession, Leo Tolstoy describes how his life came to a crisis when he failed to find a reasonable motive to a single action in his life. Leo Tolstoy had all that any sane human being would wish for- wealth, fame and success as a writer. Leo Tolstoy kept pondering on the idea that sooner or later all his acts would be forgotten by people and he would be nowhere. Leo writes that he reached a point that he contemplated committing suicide. Leo Tolstoy’s contemplation to commit suicide suggests to a greater extent that those who commit suicide do so for having failed to gain meaning in life. Suicide is, therefore, a response to meaninglessness in life. Death becomes a response to those who fail to find actual meaning in their lives. Personal identity therefore comes in play. Referring to existentialism theory, which differs to a greater extent from materialists and idealists since existentialism focuses on what is already there and not what could or may be, one can be religious by choice. For example, Leo Tolstoy is religious. In his explanation of meaning in life, he says that his life has meaning because God has invested the whole world and everything in it his life included. Leo says that although his life accomplishments may not be much, he has a role in furthering the will of God in the world as well as in his life. Existentialism therefore recognizes the power or strength an individual has. One can therefore examine his or her situation and make reasonable choices or decisions.
You need to make tough decisions
One basic lesson from The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman is that human beings are inquisitive and that in life, individuals need to make hard choices and decisions. Existentialism encourages human beings to be realists as they grapple to find answers to questions they have. Also the book raises concerns in truth-seeking and existentialism. The film is about a knight by the name Antonius Block who returns from the crusades and finds a ravaging plague. Block finds the church open in spite of the dark death. Antonius Block decides to make his confession. He finds a hooded figure to which he pours his heart; the hooded figure was death itself. The film is of a brooding intellectual agonizing with his innermost demons. Antonius Block to evade death challenges it to a game of chess. In this chess game, Antonius Block can stay alive as long as he can stave off the checkmate. As the existentialism theory has it, an individual would only blame himself or herself for any mistakes committed. Similarly, it is Antonius Block’s own obligation to ensure he stays alive. In this film, Bergman uses the chess game as a metaphor for humans to attempt to defy mortality. Existentialist evokes anxiety. It helps us authenticate things.
Life has many choices; choose wisely
Existentialism acknowledges that it is difficult to make certain life choices. A lesson that can derived here, from the knight, is that in life, there are more choices than what one can think of. In line with the existentialist philosophy, the knight, Antonius, chooses his way to determine his time of death without the assistance or aid of the universe- he determines his fate. As the theory of existentialism postulates, which situations or conditions are to count as moralistic. From the film, one gets the feeling and thought that rationality is of bad faith and hinders individuals from finding the true meaning of freedom. For example, the knight’s decision to use the chase game as the determinant of when he should die, he gets control and hold of his life (Litch & Karofsky 2015). Also, he gets out of the confines of everyday life and experience.
Life is what you make out of it
Existentialism is philosophy is a hard and absurd theory. However, it is of great essence that it recognizes that to a greater extent, that how we live is determines with how relate with others. A significant occurrence in the film is the difference in lives of a husband and wife who are astonishingly happy, the opposite of what is happening in their surroundings — suffering, misery, and anguish (Litch & Karofsky 2015). What comes in light here is that individuals can determine how their lives ought to be, regardless of how the surroundings might be. As the film The Seventh Seal progresses, the knight and the happy couple decides to travel to the Knight’s castle (Litch & Karofsky 2015). As they move the game between the knight and Death goes on, the knight, Antonius, loses the game. However, determined to stay alive and in control of his destiny, he distracts Death so that the couple can escape to safer places (Litch & Karofsky 2015). The film interrogates man’s fears and tries to seek answers to some of the tough questions one has. As human beings, it is important that we learn and work towards betterment of our communication techniques to communicate effectively and realize what matters most to us.
Self-actualization is as important as life itself
Personal freedom and self-actualization is of much value in existentialism. In his confession, Antonius Block asks questions such as why God must hide in vague promises and miracles that can never happen. Block asks of what shall become of individuals who want to believe but cannot think. Block asks why he cannot kill God who continues to inhabit his heart which is in pain and a humiliating state. In all this, a fundamental question arises. Block tells Death that he is in search of knowledge and not faith or suppositions. Block continues and tells Death that he wants God to reveal himself to him. Antonius Block asks why is it that the knowledge of religion is of much importance to humanity and the reason why many believers are not merely satisfied with believing. This question is clear proof that humankind is an animal set to seek questions and answers and in so doing, find their true meaning in life. Religion is, therefore, in itself, not an entire thought of a reason.
While having a meal with Mia, the knight tells Mia that faith is a torment. The knight likens faith with loving someone who is the darkness but will never appear no matter how loud you call on them (Litch & Karofsky 2015). As the knight shares time with Mia, he acknowledges the pleasure he gets while with them; suggesting that the memory he shares with them will prevent his thoughts of getting true meaning in life from surfacing again. This scene in the movie gives the idea that every human being has the potential to make or have a positive contribution to the world and become a likable person-a humanist.
Our decisions have consequences
The film Affliction is concerned with a brother trying to seek the truth; the motive behind his brother’s murder and who killed him — the setting of the film in New Hampshire. Wade Whitehouse, the main character in the movie believes someone had murdered his younger brother Evan Twombley. Wade, a policeman, had been informed of a crime. He rushes to the crime scene where Jack Hewitt, who had gone hunting with his brother, tells him that his brother Evan had shot himself. However, Wade gets convinced that someone must have killed his brother after learning that he was a key witness scheduled to give his testimony in an ongoing court case. Wade discloses his thoughts to his brother Rolfe although he has no substantial evidence to prove his allegations.
At their mother’s burial, Rolfe discloses to Wade about the possibility that Hewitt might have killed Evan Twombley. Wade’s obsession with seeking the truth leads to loss of his job, post accusations of harassing Jack with allegations. At this point, the film gives a clear image of human behavior which is obsessed with the truth and seeking meaning and answers to occurrences in life. Such obsessions can lead to greater misfortunes if not handled with care. Knowledge is therefore sadly a tragic theme in this film, Affliction. It gives us a warning in regards to the nature and state of knowledge.
Existentialism can be applied when in rage, despair, and embitterment. There is danger of believing in something excessively too. Being over confident can therefore be harmful if not detrimental to oneself. The contrasting characteristics between Rolfe and Wade clearly show the difference between objectivity and subjectivity. However much Rolfe wants to get to the truth about the death of Evan Twombley, he realizes that he is driving towards an obsession or a disorder that is consuming much of his time at the expense of his job. Rolfe realizes that in life, however much human beings endeavor to find the truth, and one cannot uncover everything. The pursuit for purpose in life also comes into play when Rolfe muses in his writings that he is determined to open his mouth and speak so that he can let out some of the secrets he has been keeping. Rolfe says that he is doing so for necessarily no social good but for him to be merely free. Rolfe lingers in the questions whether he will marry and have children of his own.
Existentialism can be perceived as pessimism. Abert Camus once said that one would never be happy if he or she continues to find the meaning of life and what happiness consists of. Existentialism is an approach towards the existence and purpose of human beings in the world. It squarely faces world’s concerns such as meaninglessness, loneliness, despair and suffering. People who support existentialism have questioned our use of existence and finding the meaning of life. According to existentialism, no life is predetermined. That is, there is no such thing as fate. Every human being is free to determine his/her destiny. Over the years, most people going through tough situations have lived up to the theory often questioning their reason for existence. Existentialism therapists ’goals are normally to make individuals to understand the world and the options it provides. By so doing, one is able to be aware of his or present, confront his or her fears, and create or develop a true real relationship with and within themselves and the world as a whole. However, life is what one makes out of it. Life is therefore what one really wants it to be.
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Anderson, Robert. Existentialism. Hodder Education, 2011.
Dustin Putman’s Review – Affliction (1997) – [TheMovieBoy], www.thefilmfile.com/reviews/a/97_affliction.htm.
Litch, Mary M., and Amy Karofsky. Philosophy Through Film. Routledge, 2015.