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“Long as You Know You’re Living Yours”
Song title, Keith Jarrett

“In this world, we eat, shit, sleep, and wake up. After that, all we have to do is die.”
Ikkyu

“Please enjoy your only life!”
Jakusho Kwong

“The power of a man’s virtues should be measured not by his special efforts, but by his ordinary doing.”
Blaise Pascal

“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve often described atheism as a great liberation – you never waste one minute worrying about whether God exists, whether he answers your prayers, whether he’ll send you to hell, what his plan is, what he meant in this or that Biblical passage. Not one minute!

Another advantage is that you can discover wisdom anywhere. When my 7-year-old stepson Zach asked his Christian stepmother whether there weren’t in fact many gods and holy books (we had showed him Internet videos of Jews and Muslims praying), he was firmly told that no, there is only one God and one holy book.

Wisdom from everywhere

I’m not worried about Zach. He’s too curious, too impertinent. He’ll figure it out for himself. And when he does, he will realize that there’s a whole world of wisdom out there. It’s not just confined to one book.

A billion Muslims are in mental enslavement to this one-book idea. It would be good if the book contained something of value, but my understanding is that the Koran has much more gibberish, fairy tales, and kill-the-infidels (in “The End of Faith,” Sam Harris quotes dozens of such gems) than wisdom.

Jew are just as bad, with their “core resource” delusion: that all wisdom must be spun from the primitive Torah (hence the Talmud and centuries of spin/commentary), with its irrelevant, mind-numbing rules for shepherds and farmers thousands of years ago. I read the document in the best English translation available (440 pages), and I found only 29 directives worth obeying, most of them obvious (don’t make your daughter a harlot).

Sandler’s oeuvre

So yes, wisdom is where you find it, even in a throw-away movie comedy whose star has a devoted following, but not for his philosophical depth. Some people cringe at Adam Sandler, or belittle him, and I don’t know why.

He is truly a wise fool. He has a delightful bent for the absurd, as we saw in his “Operaman” newscasts on Saturday Night Live. Who can forget his winsome Canteen Boy, demurely resisting Alec Baldwin’s gay advances? And his Hanukkah Song, which we’re all ready to hear again this year in all three versions, will live forever and has already inspired parodies, including an atheist variety that lists famous atheists the way Sandler did with Jews (“…Angelina Jolie and Carl Sagan…put ‘em together and they make one GOOD-looking pagan”).

The seduction of work

In “Click” (2006), he is architect Michael Newman, a name only slightly less Jewish than the star’s. As so often happens, his work is eating up his life. It’s that old capitalist carrot and stick: bust your ass for a couple years, and then you’ll get promoted – which will not be some heavenly plateau, but will, in fact, require MORE time and effort. It’s a devil’s bargain and one than many working people fall for.

The immediate source of Michael’s irritation is one that we can all share: the need for a universal remote. Some of his remotes operate his kids’ toys, which makes for even more confusion.

Beyond

Michael heads out to a big-box store to get a universal remote. He winds up at Bed Bath and Beyond, and we finally find out what the “Beyond” means (the company got terrific PR exposure from this movie). Michael heads into a spooky warehouse inhabited by a weird techno-geek sales type.

At first I thought only Christopher Lloyd would do – the mad scientist from the Back to the Future movies. But when I saw what Christopher Walken did with the role, I realized that he practically stole the movie, acting as its center, supplying droll philosophical commentary along the way, and only later announcing who he really is.

So he gives Michael the latest universal remote. It doesn’t even have a bar code yet, so it’s free. The condition is, you can’t return it.

The universal remote

Michael gratefully takes his prize home and soon finds out what a universal remote really it: it is universal. He can mute his dog’s barking. He can pause reality, which he does to give his asshole, glad-handing boss (David Hasselhoff) a beating. All of a sudden the boss is in a world of hurt, but Michael‘s still just standing there, grinning.

He can alter reality in other ways as well. He uses the color control to make himself look like the Incredible Hunk, Barney the Dinosaur, and finally, a beautifully-tanned Michael. At a restaurant, he changes the language setting, and all of sudden he can hear a group of Japanese business clients privately discussing his firm – but IN ENGLISH. He finds out what they really want and closes the deal.

This movie is rhetorically at right angles with “Groundhog Day,” in which arrogant putz Bill Murray is doomed to live the same day over and over till he gets it right. “Click,” on the other hand, asks: what if you could alter your experience of reality in unprecedented ways, changing languages, pausing at will, and more? What if you didn’t have to experience the monotonously forward arrow of time but could relive past moments, avoid routine chores, skip ahead at will? Would it be better?

(BTW, the narrator in Nicolson Baker’s “The Fermata” also figures out how to stop time, but he uses it for masturbatory purposes.)

Both movies converge at the point of the problem of what to do with one’s life, given the certain outcome.

Enjoying the power

When Murray realizes he is immortal, he consumes great quantities of sugar, smokes, even throws a toaster in his bathtub. He can’t escape Groundhog Day. He gradually starts to use his power for good, even learning to play the piano (for the teacher, it’s always the “first” lesson) and rescuing people from or preventing accidents that he knew were going to happen. .

Similarly, Michael plays with his powers successfully. Caught in a marital memory test, he pauses, his wife freezes in mid-word, and he rewinds until he can access the song that was playing when they fell in love.

All goes well until the day he discovers he can fast-forward through moments he’d rather not have to experience: traffic jams, arguments, even sex. He speeds up the sex so that he’s satisfied, but she isn’t. Then he finds that certain events start to automatically fast-forward.

MENU

He pays a return visit to Morty. What’s going on? Morty takes him to MENU, which is indeed a metaphor for where your consciousness is when it isn’t anywhere else. The movie’s MENU is a blue computer-graphic 360o swirl of access to past experiences, states of mind, and information…everything you’d find in a menu, all the capabilities in one place. It’s everywhere and nowhere.

Morty explains that the remote device programs what you fast-forward and will always fast-forward you through those experiences. Who is he? The Angel of Death (morte, get it?).

Michael wants out. He tries everything to get rid of the remote, but it reappears, even in his bodily orifices.

Avoiding auto-pilot

He then starts doing what he should have done all along: paying attention to and living his own life. He wants to avoid the automatically-fast-forwarded auto-piloted (the word is used frequently in the script) activities like getting dressed in the morning, so he goes to work in a bathrobe. He tries to avoid all the routine activities of which he has been unconscious – and has been made to be unconscious.

Hoping to escape, he programs the device to take him to a good time in the future, but now his kids are grown, somewhat alienated, and he’s in the hospital after he had a heart attack and gained and lost 100 pounds – even has a gross flap to prove it.

But fast-forwarding to the future doesn’t do it either. He’s lost his wife to his work and another man. Very sad, because they had a real love affair at first.

Michael dies after tearing himself loose from his IVs, running out of the hospital, and chasing his ex-wife, the lost love of his life, down the street.

Another chance

Fade to black? Not quite. In fact, it’s lights up. At first it looks like a sappy, happy Hollywood ending – it was all a dream! — with Michael awakening from a nap on one of the BB&B’s beds (the salesguy admits he too takes naps).

He has a euphoric, Ebenezer-Scrooge-on-Christmas-morn experience. Or think Jimmy Stewart’s manic relief in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” another existential exploration: what would the world have been like without you? He rushes home and embraces his once-again-little children, determined to do better.

But then he finds a note – and another remote — from Morty: “ I thought it was worth giving a nice guy another chance. I hope you’ll make the right choice this time.” Morty adds that he still admires Michael’s wife’s body. Michael tosses the remote in the trash and begins really living his life.

Morty’s relevance

Now we know what death has to do with it all. It is the specter of death that makes us auto-pilot through life. Before you know it, it’s the top of the ninth, and you didn’t pay attention – or you pursued false goals, which is just as bad. As the old saying goes, “Nobody lies on his deathbed wishing he’d spent more time at the office.”

The politicians promise jobs as a panacea to everyone’s problems, but how many jobs are a treadmill, a mere exchanges of time for money (which buys you more time to run faster)?

In order for work to be meaningful and seductive, they have to make you think that you’re doing something important. One of the management cliché mantras in the 90s was that every employee contributed to “brand value.” It’s a stretch. Most people work because they need the money.

The message of “Click”: nobody gets out alive. Morty has plans for all of us. Until he appears, let’s make sure that we are living our own lives, and not pouring the energy of our days into fulfilling someone else’s agenda. Tech gadgets totally redefine what it means to “be somewhere,” and the present moment is further robbed of the attention it deserves. With all-consuming jobs and overflowing schedules, it’s getting harder and harder to pay attention – to kids, health, family, friends, surroundings, whatever – and keep our finger off the “auto-pilot” button.

13 Responses to “The existential significance of Adam Sandler’s “Click””

  1. on 26 Nov 2012 at 4:24 amRich

    Like what I’ve seen of AS. What you mentioned, and Punch Drunk Love, which I Think is good. Avoided most of his movies. Cartman in Hollywood: “Script 332. Adam Sandler…” They’re All AS.

    Nobody does Creepy like Chris W. Nobody. He does other stuff too. Betters every movie he’s in. Ran for Pres. a few terms ago, platform and all. Have you seen his “Continental”? Brilliant, on YouT. Weird wonderful fellow. On yacht when Natalie Wood drowned. Walker was jealous of Chris, big argument w/booze. NW was morbidly scared of open water.

    John D. MacDonald (v good Travis McGee mysteries) wrote, “The Girl, The Gold Watch, and Everything”. Pocketwatch that stops time. Masochistic undertones.

    Reading “Defender of the Realm”, vol 3 on Churchill. My land! How he abused, used, and tortured his subordinates! A young Navy officer called him on it. “Yes, but I am a great man.”

    Look at the Cosmos, the improbability of Earth much less Life, the 90% of Univ. we don’t know what the stuff is, Univ. from a dot 14B years ago … I decided when I was 16, I’d never know the Profundities, so I’ll just bugger on.

  2. on 27 Nov 2012 at 1:23 amAlan

    Not only that, you and I were once a single cell. Let us bugger on together.

    “Continental” (originally on Sat. Night Live) cracks me up. CW also over the top in “Balls of Fury.” But also very convincing in “Dead Zone.” He and Natalie were making a movie, “Brainstorm,” which presaged virtual reality.

  3. on 28 Nov 2012 at 1:18 amRich

    In Catholic grade school, I was a little eschatologist. Never really believed the dogma, but was influenced by it. I fretted about getting bored living for Eternity. The transitory nature of Nature. A bit about going to Hell, but not much.

    At 17, I formulated my Theory of Relative Absolutes, which I’ve lived by pretty much ever since. By which Beauty, tho evanescent, I’d pretend was Eternal, because it was the best I could do. I think Steve Tyler mebbe had the same idea here.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIv1MAClQhk

  4. on 28 Nov 2012 at 6:58 pmAlan

    “Millions of people long for immorality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon” (Fran Lebowitz, I think).

    The mind has been compared to a treeful for monkeys. It is a considerable feat to shut them up and appreciate the present moment.

    Couldn’t get the video to play, but I get the point.

    What’s the theory of Relative Absolutes? Contradictory and catchy. Maybe you could copyright it.

  5. on 29 Nov 2012 at 9:48 pmRich

    I was intrigued by “Be Here Now” - until I read about people who were, due to brain injury. Every moment is New - it’s Torture.

    You never can get YouTube to work, apparently. Crap. Do you have a “Flash” plug in? That worked for me. W/my Bose speakers, I really enjoy all the music.

    TORA posits 2 major axioms. 1. There are No Absolutes. 2. I shall live as tho there are.

  6. on 30 Nov 2012 at 1:26 amRick

    I very much enjoy the literary what if /alternate history genre. I recently finished Stephen King’s “11/22/63″.
    (Spoiler alert) This enjoyable novel like many other books of its kind can be summed up thusly: Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. It’s probably better to just play the cards that fate has dealt us rather than ask for a new hand.

  7. on 02 Dec 2012 at 8:54 pmAlan

    To Rich…Anything carried to extremes can be harmful. Much more common than amnesiac brain disorders is the tendency of modern people, who can presumably control their attention, to be anywhere but here and how.

    To Rick…Well said. I devoured the Kennedy book and have enjoyed many alt-history novels and short stories. In one, the Confederacy gets modern weapons from time travelers and wins the war (”Guns of the South,” Harry Turtledove). In another, Germany won WWII and Goebbels and other nostalgic Nazis are getting together to celebrate the fuhrer’s 90th birthday.

  8. on 03 Dec 2012 at 9:08 amRich

    Good point. I think of my last boss, 30-ish woman, whippet thin climber/striver, Broadwell-style toady - I liked and pitied her. Before going in her office, we had to prepare. Rehearse a 60-second Abstract & Talk Fast.

    She had 2 smartphones, a headset, 2 computers, radio on. Within 60 seconds, she was distracted by one or more of them. I seriously doubt she read books. I helped her w/grad school.

    And think about how we wrote speeches. Constant reading. Specific Research for each speech, interviews if possible, interrogation of POCs (points of contact). Formulation of ideas, w/”Hooks” for speech. Quotes, anecdotes, personal stories.

    When writing, I wore noise-muffling aircraft carrier earmuffs. Often All Day, plus work at home. No Distractions to my buzzing brain. Intense Concentration.

    I wonder if young whippersnappers are capable of that. Maybe that’s why everybody has Power Point & Talking Points.

  9. on 03 Dec 2012 at 10:59 amRich

    Regarding TORA. My fondest teacher was in HS. Elegant Southern lady, mebbe late 30s, taught French & AP English. Everybody feared her but me. She gave me books. I wrote several term papers for her, including Existentialism. I liked Camus most.

    Back from Army, I went to see her. Dead young of Cancer. Absurd. Camus dead at 47 in car crash, at last minute decided not to use train. Absurd.

    Camus Existentialism basis of TORA. Viz:

    In absurdist philosophy, the Absurd arises out of the fundamental disharmony between the individual’s search for meaning and the meaninglessness of the universe. As beings looking for meaning in a meaningless world, humans have three ways of resolving the dilemma. Kierkegaard and Camus describe the solutions in their works, The Sickness Unto Death (1849) and The Myth of Sisyphus (1942):

  10. on 09 Dec 2012 at 9:40 pmAlan

    Rich…Speechwriting is VERY different now. The sw’er must be able to tweet, update Facebook, intersperse ppt and video, and podcast.

    I’d like to see some current executive speeches. Yes, it did take concentration to do what we did.

    As regards the post…Tech gadgets totally redefine what it means to “be somewhere.”

  11. on 10 Dec 2012 at 2:46 amRich

    Data is not Information. Information is not Knowledge. Knowledge is not Expertise. Expertise is not Good Judgement. Good Judgement is not Wisdom. Competence. I think, in some cases, it combines them all.

    Don’t see a lot of it these days, at least in the higher reaches of Power. The guys who do our electric, gas, water, food, TV, computer … the stuff of our lives … they seem Competent.

    Latest study of grade school students’ vocabulary says it’s declined dramatically. An Education “expert” blames parents.

    Hooooly crap! That’s s’writing today!? How can such ephemeral evanescent coruscating … data & pix … convey Ideas, Information, and Knowledge? I caught a glimpse of future before I retired. The Petraeus-Broadwell medicine show in little.

    Yup. The most esteemed and revered military Commander since Julius Caesar or something. The best military historians and writers would have Killed! to write his authorized bio. Gen P chose a seductive ambitious girl with crazy eyes. Competence.

  12. on 10 Dec 2012 at 5:25 pmAlan

    Good observation. Why is A/C service so much more reliable than government? The A/C service tech is trained to do what he does and works within a predictable framework. Politicians have no training in running a government, and the object of their attention is anything but predictable. Yet in their arrogance they treat governing as no more complicated than A/C repair.

    OF COURSE Petraeus chose a young, adoring woman to write his bio. How drearily predictable. Is there a male in the entire world, no matter how smart and accomplished, who cannot resist the urgings of his little head?

  13. on 10 Dec 2012 at 8:36 pmRich

    I dunno. Computerization does a lot more now, but Competent Technicians and Technologists do a whole lot of tricky Troubleshooting all the time. Thomas Ricks says our Competent Grunts make their Incompetent Commanders look like geniuses. Heck, WE worked in unpredictable circumstances.

    I disagree on Petraeus. With his power and prestige he could have placed his Paramour in many sweet lucrative sinecures. Honchos all over the world do that All The Time. He could still have gone on his endless runs w/her. And other more intimate activities.

    Paula didn’t even Write the book! A WaPo military journalist did. Paula merely did the pillow talk. Petraeus denies it started in Army, but that’s just to avoid Military Court Martial (at his level, he’s still vulnerable). He’s a slimy climber, with terrific PR & Contacts and bogus accomplishments.

    Our politicians don’t run the govt. How can they? They spend most of their time and energy raising Campaign Money, schmoozing Tycoons, on Vacations. The Federal Register is 10’s of K’s pages long. They don’t even read the Bills they sign.

    That might be OK in normal circumstances. But they are Never normal. Some worse than others. Our greatest Leaders never took Poli-Sci. Wilson taught it. He was a Stinker.

    BBC America has a Terrific new series. “The Hour”. Makes Sorkin’s crap look like crap.

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