Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Rise of the Happiness Empire.

"History is not a science of morality"
- from Denys Arcand's "The Decline of the American Empire".

Yesterday I heard on CNN that I live in the happiest place on Earth! (Click here for full story)
These news forced me to ask myself why then are most of the people I know unhappy. Is it because they are too demanding? Because they have clinical depression? Because they are missing something in their lives? Because they don't know they are living in the happiest place on Earth? Or simply because the "happiness" collected in this study isn't accurate for our times (or at least for the people I know)?
With the state of the world I didn't have much time to reflect on that piece of odd-almost novelty-news and it quickly slipped my mind.
Until later during the day I watched Denys Arcand's masterful "The Decline of the American Empire". In one of the first scenes Dominique (Dominique Michel), an important author, explains to a journalist the thoughts in her new book which discusses gender roles and sex among other things, but uses the looking glass known as happiness to explore them.
She thinks happiness is what rules the world and everything the human race does, even wars and genocide, are aimed towards the reach of this seemingly abstract concept.
She explains that our ideas of happiness have changed during three specific historical times; first during the fall of Rome in the third century, later during the French Revolution when Rousseau came up with his groundbreaking manifestos and the third time during the post Vietnam era (the film was made in 1986).
At first anyone can dismiss these ideas as Arcand's way of providing his character with pseudo-intellectual theories to support what we will later learn is a very sad character.
However, they persist long after you've watched the movie. Perhaps not the theories themselves, but the idea that happiness isn't a static concept. It also evolves, it also can change and above all it also can disappear.
I hadn't seen a film so rooted in ideas in ages. And even if I could resent the fact that it gave me so much to think about in what's an already stressful time for me, I can't be but thankful for cinema that challenges the viewer so much and without trying too hard.
When was the last time a movie got the wheels in your mind turning so powerfully?


Kelsy said...

Probably Hiroshima Mon Amour. It's so spare in its dialogue and action, you can't help but think about what it's trying to convey.

Jose said...

Excellent choice Kelsy. You know what that movie reminded me of the first time I saw it? Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation", think about it: two strangers have an "affair" in Tokyo, the whole metaphysical, poetic mood...
Resnais' film is more subtle in its implications, but Coppola's is just as haunting even if it seems to be more obvious.