FILM ANALYSIS: PARIS EXAMINED THROUGH ROBERT FLOREY'S, 'THE LOVE OF ZERO'
The west is praying for Paris. But some are asking, "Why Paris?" With regular bombings in Beirut and Palestine, and a massacre that just happened in Kenya (again), why Paris? And to those people I ask: Is it because we are less attached to humanity than we are to our own lives?
There are very uncomplicated answers to 'why Paris.' Because Paris is in the west, and we either know someone in Paris, or have been to Paris ourselves; Paris is familiar to us, so we collectively identify with Paris and Parisians in a way that we don't with other countries who have suffered similar violence. It's almost akin to this happening in New York. Plus, to put it simply, we aren't accustomed to things like this happening in Paris, whereas we have become numb to their happening in Palestine. (For better or for worse). And I'll leave the question of why violence is not 'supposed to' happen in Paris, yet we ignore it when it happens elsewhere to political activists, because I think the more important thing to ask is why people have more interest in themselves than they do with humanity as a whole in general.
But Camus, an Algerian disillusioned in Paris, already answered my question for us over 50 years ago. It is because life is absurd. We choose what is important to us based on personal identity, based on our own experiences, and still most of us wish to give meaning to the choices we make. As if they are anything beyond our own inclinations and principles. Perhaps because we find ourselves to be so important. But to me, none of what we care about does us any good if we think there are actual reasons for caring beyond our own interests. So what I am faced with now is the human experience. Because the commonality underlying our care for Paris, and the call for attention to other acts of violence, are just different degrees of the same experiential category: the importance of human life.
Sometimes in order to see the humanity in large events like this, it is helpful to consider the individual experience. In order to do so, I thought we would consider two basic experiences, love and suffering. These two experiences are depicted on an individual level in Robert Florey's 1927 silent film, The Love of Zero. Though the film is usually regarded for its use of avant-garde techniques, and impressionistic use of light, I think we can also use the film to put ourselves in the shoes of others, to experience our own ideas of the value of human life first-hand. Plus the film was made by a Paris-born filmmaker who immigrated to the United States in 1921, so it seems fitting.
This film was originally silent, but everything that exists today has been put to music. This is the coolest version in my opinion. For an 'authentic' experience, the film can be muted.
In The Love of Zero, we follow the main character (Zero), who at the beginning of the film, falls in love with a girl named Beatrix. The film continues with Zero and Beatrix in the throws of love, but about half way through, Beatrix receives a letter saying she has to return to Kabul, where she was a concubine before meeting Zero. So to both of their dismay, Beatrix leaves Zero, never to return again. Following her departure, we see the suffering each person endures as a result of their lost love, each one having their own experience. It is because these two have a personal connection with one another that they are capable of grieving their loss in such a way. Without having first hand experience of each other, their care for one another would be dependent on each individual's care for humanity, which we have seen, is thus dictated by how much or how little one cares for themselves.
But later in the film, we learn that Beatrix is dead, and so we are left with the mourning of Zero alone. And it is curious that we see Zero's grief increase when he discovers that Beatrix is dead. They were to never see each other again, but somehow learning that she was no longer alive made it worse for him than if they simply had not been able to see each other. Perhaps this sentiment in part, stems from the hope of her escaping in the future, but it also exhibits the inherent value of human life, and how extremely valuable we perceive it.
When one is in love, they see the other person as part of themselves, so a lover becomes as important to us as we are to ourselves. In this same way, when we can identify with one individual, say a Parisian... we are moved to care for them because we can see ourselves in them. Others who think it important to extend a mass reaction to injustice all over the world perhaps think too much of humanity, because we know that the masses only care for themselves. And while it might seem liberal to care for 'more than Paris,' any reaction to the violence of life is a positive, so there doesn't seem to be a grave difference to me. This is not to say that the lack of reaction to massacres that occur regularly is justified, but to expect this of people, or to even see the need for a broader care of humanity, tells oneself more about her own wishes than it does about the short comings of society.
It is not an impossibility that one day people in the west can see themselves in the victims of violence in Beirut, but given that we all more or less care about ourselves, it would take a complete annihilation of the other for these views to catch on. And before I get too Ayn Rand for one blog post, I'll close with one last question: Given that revolution cannot happen over night, isn't it good when the masses react to violence at all?
Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015