Saturday, January 21, 2006

Post No. 51: Afterthoughts About “Castaway”

Yah, I know that it isn’t a new movie but after re-watching “Castaway” recently on TV, a few ideas which have been fermenting in my mind for quite some time finally took form and I just thought that I should share them with you all…

In case you all aren’t aware, “Castaway” is a story with Tom Hanks, the male lead in the movie, starring as a guy who, after a plane crash accident, got stranded on a deserted island. Despite all odds, this guy managed to adapt to his new island home, survived on it for 4 years, escaped from the island on a raft he built himself and in the end, got rescued. Returning back to civilisation, the guy realised that, within the span of 4 years which he was absent, a lot of changes have happened e.g. his girlfriend got married to another guy. At the end of the movie, the guy is shown starting off on a new phase and direction in his Life.

Okay, now that I have written a brief synopsis of the movie, I will move on to discuss my afterthoughts about the movie…

Well, I suppose it is a common observation to most of us that we all have the tendency to take things for granted. It seems to me that few people have the sense to cherish what they have when they still have them, instead they usually only start to cherish and realise the importance of things valuable to them when they have already lost them or are about to lose them. I mean, with clean drinking water readily available at the turning on of a tap, how many of us actually bother to think about how much effort must be put in to ensure this flow of clean drinking water and how valuable this water is? Yes, in the back of our minds we all know how scarce a natural resource water is, especially in Singapore where we all are reminded from time to time about the importance of water conservancy, but how many of us really care about this when we are allowing the water to run continuously from our taps and enjoying ourselves playing with water bombs (I concede that I have also played with water bombs and water conservancy was nowhere in my mind when I was playing with them)? And this phenomenon of taking things for granted not only applies to tangible stuff such as water, food and fire but also non-tangible things such as our health, freedom and our relationships with those around us. Must we really be put into a situation whereby all the things important to us are removed from us before we can really start cherishing them? Would it be perhaps too late by then?

On top of taking things for granted, it is also my observation that we all tend to expend much effort chasing after things which we don’t really need and can live without with. After going beyond the stage where we need to worry about satisfying our needs, we all start thinking about how to fulfill our never-ending wants. Of course, I have nothing against people wanting to fulfill their own wants, considering that human beings are, after all, beings which have desires and I am such a being also, but it is my opinion that this trend of people seeking to fulfill their own wants & desires can mutate into something most unhealthy. And this mutation occurs when people start to seek only the satisfying of their wants and not care about other important things such as the cost of satisfying their wants. Think about it: what are we sacrificing in order to satisfy our never-ending wants? I have heard and read about cases in which young people, as reported in the newspapers recently, take on jobs just to earn money which they splurge on branded goods. And of course, there have been recent cases in which young girls have been found to be sleeping with older men for money. Perhaps these girls really do need the money desperately but my personal opinion is, pardon me for adopting too moralistic a tone, that it is most probably not a case of them needing the money but they wanting the money. And what would they want the money for? Well, in this modern age society in which consumerism seems to be the dominant ideology, the line between “needs” and “wants” is getting more & more blurred. In fact, this desire in people, especially those younger in age, for material goods, especially branded goods, seems to me to be a case, as most critics of consumerism have also pointed out, most akin to “commodity fetish”. In the end, what I am trying to tell you all is that there’s nothing wrong about wanting to satisfy our wants & desires but recognise that there’s more to Life than satisfying our own desires. Be wary also of the trap of “manufactured wants”.

Another idea which I think the movie explored is the importance of Hope in human existence. Yes, perhaps Hope is indeed the source of our greatest weakness, as espoused by the Architect from “Matrix: Reloaded”, but it is also, as admitted by the Architect also, the source of our greatest strength. Personally, I think that Hope is a vital element of human existence. It is not without a reason that Hope is said to be the only thing left in Pandora’s Box after all ills have been released from the box. It is Hope, together with Purpose, that allows us humans to continue our sometimes bleak and meaningless existence. It is Hope which prevents us from choosing suicide for it gives us something to be worth living for. It is like what Tom Hanks’s character said in the movie: “Keep on breathing, you never know what the tide may bring in”. However, after singing the praises of Hope, I must warn you all not to see Hope where there is none at all. It is better, in my opinion, to recognise the hopelessness of a situation than to persist in false hope. Hope which is false, though it may console, is ultimately more harmful than hopelessness.

I don’t know about you all but I have a collection of things which I call as my “pieces of memories”. They include photos, some poorly written poems of mine, some ridiculous short scripts of skits written by me, school newsletters and other mementoes which I have gathered over the years. These “pieces of memories” are valuable to me, not because they are worth anything in monetary terms, but because of the memories I associate with them. Likewise, there are many inanimate objects out there which people find valuable because of the values and memories they associate with them. For example, while a country’s flag may be nothing but a piece of cloth, when that piece of cloth is being burned by citizens of another country, it is most likely that citizens of the country which the flag belongs to would become most indignant about this burning of their country’s flag. A war may even be started because of this. This projection of values, emotions and memories into an inanimate object is aptly demonstrated in the movie by the relationship between Tom Hanks’s character and “Wilson”, a volleyball. While this projection of values, emotions and memories into inanimate objects may struck some of you as a form of “commodity fetish”, I would say that this is much more benign than “commodity fetish” because the values, emotions and memories projected into these things are real and not “manufactured” by some company wanting to sell you something. I mean, which would be more valuable to you: an ordinary pair of running shoes which you have wore for many years and ran your first marathon in or a pair of branded running shoes which the company selling them tell you is “hip”, “cool” and “the pair which everyone who is anyone must have”…?

In conclusion, though there’s much more that I can discuss with regards to the movie, I believe you all have read enough and thus I will end my post here.

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