Student: “Problem of Identity. Non-violence. Change. Paradox. Similarities. Differences. Self.”
Anand: “It becomes a bit boring to read about these ideas sometimes, huh?”
Student: “Yeah.. You know how classes get sometimes.
(Haha. Yeah. WE know! :P)
Anand: “I guess you like movies.”
Student: “Hell yeah!”
Anand: “Idea! Let’s put them into a movie!”
Yeah. That’s how Ship of Theseus was made! Anand is the director, Anand Gandhi.
I recently watched this movie and it influenced me like no other movie did, at least in a certain way. It is a movie which stands at another level. The way the story flows, the plot weaved in the form of the stories of three different, yet similar people, really strikes a chord. The movie very well depicted the Theseus’ paradox.
(Theseus’ Paradox? Well, it is a thought experiment conducted by the Greek thinker Plutarch that raises the question of whether an object which has had all its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object. And thought experiments are mostly what we philosophers do!)
The movie is a beautiful, artfully done patchwork of three stories. A blind Egyptian photographer, a Jain monk, and a stockbroker.
The story of the blind photographer, who finds her skill lost after getting new eyes, very effectively brings out the problem of identity. It is beautiful to watch how eyes, which are considered as the biggest gift we have, the best a blind person could ask for, turn out to be sort of an obstacle for the blind girl. She feels her talent gone. She could not take pictures with her eyes, and starts wearing a eye band which makes her feel complete. The story ends with her sitting in a beautiful valley, pondering upon the nature of beauty, bringing in a completely different concept of aesthetics and we find ourselves pondering upon her thoughts.
The story very effectively brings to the surface the metaphysical problem of personal identity. The problem of personal identity deals with many simple, yet stunning questions like: Who am I? Am I the same person that I was ten years ago? What defines my personhood? Some questions are even more complex. If we talk biologically, then can we say that a man serving a lifer is the same man when he leaves the prison? The cells of his body got gradually replaced by new ones over all these years. And if cells make up the body, hasn’t the person who entered the prison is a different person when he leaves it?
The story forces us to find answers to these questions. Did her identity change after she got eyes? Does her sense of vision form a part of her identity? What makes her person hood? The problem of identity fascinates me the most among other metaphysical questions. Can we really find an answer to it? The movie makes us push our thinking. It brings the problem of identity out of the books which really hits the mark.
The second story is about a Jain monk who is suffering from a severe case of Liver Cirrhosis, forgoing treatment for the same and fighting a case against animal testing. His lawyer is a sharp contrast to the monk himself, being a supporter of the Carvaka school of philosophy. (YOLO! :P) He cracks many interesting jokes, which only we philosophy folks would enjoy 🙂 Here’s one!
So in one scene the monk saved an insect from being crushed and the lawyer saw that. The lawyer says,
-“What if it was the worm’s karma to just lie there and get crushed?”
-“Well, is it lying there getting crushed? So, perhaps, it wasn’t.”
-“Or worse, the worm was trying to commit suicide and you’ve put it in the pot, and now it has to crawl it’s way back to nirvana.”
“I am sorry I didn’t get your name..”
“Really? Your parents named you that?”
“No. My parents named me Madhava after the great theologist Madhavacharya. But I decided to switch sides at the age of fourteen.”
This story shows some really deep aspects of Jain philosophy. The story reveals to us the life of Jain monks and the Jain ethics. The story ends with the monk finally agreeing to get a liver transplant, showing the lessons life teaches us while we cling on to certain beliefs.
The third story is about a stockbroker, who recently got a kidney transplant, and puts in his heart and soul to deliver justice to a poor slum-dweller whose kidney was stolen during a medical procedure. This story very well brings about the different parallels of material goals and ethics. It also hints at medical ethics. The story ends with the slum dweller happily accepting money in lieu of his kidney, and the stockbroker feeling defeated in morality.
The movie ends with all three characters uniting at the memorial service of the person whose organs were transplanted into their bodies. The climax is really stunning and illuminates the connection between the different corporeal, ethical, aesthetic and spiritual matters, which were the signboards on the road that we take with the movie.
It is a movie full of subtle as well as striking philosophy, which makes it stand apart. Anand Gandhi, the director, said that the structure of the movie was that of three quests. The monk being about the quest for truth, followed by the stockbroker’s quest for ethics, and the blind woman’s quest for aesthetics.
It is a wonderful movie. It stimulates a lot of thinking inside your head. The movie so effectively makes you think that I watched it in one day, because the subtleties of the movie were stimulating complex thought experiments in my mind.
(Thought experiments again! 😀 )
This movie is a must watch for every student of philosophy. I found it more interesting than one entire semester of doing philosophy in class! 😛
Kudos to Anand Gandhi for creating this masterpiece of art, and thanks to Kiran Rao for bringing it to India!
– Khushi Vijayvergiya