You may be asking – what does a shallow comedy have to do with spirituality?
Funny People is about as shallow as the continental shelf and for me the experience of watching it was like a guided tour of the creation of the hologram. For you non-busters, this means that the attention to detail in both its fictional world and it’s honesty of emotion is staggering.
Both groups will enjoy Anthony DellaFlora’s article on the intersection of comedy and spirituality The Zen of Seinfeld.
You should know that I have a bias. I have a B.A. in Film and Digital theory the majority of which was earned by analyzing films. The upside of this is now when I watch movies it becomes a four-dimensional experience. No I don’t go back in time, but I watch much more than the movie itself. Even while I’m engrossed in the story, I think about and analyze the cinematography, the direction, the locations, the script process, the sound design, the editing, the 2nd unit work (stunts and location-only shots). It’s like having a making-of documentary simultaneously piped into my brain at the same time as watching the movie.
You may think that this kind of critical thinking would detract from my pure enjoyment, but on the contrary, it greatly enhances it. Having made a film, I’m in awe of how much work must have gone into every little piece. How difficult it was for them to find that perfect extra to walk by the background of the shot at just the right moment. Or how much work went in to planning a piece of dialogue that reveals a nuance of a character. So when a film is good or great, it becomes a truly transcendental experience.
Are you seeing the corollary to busting loose yet? No?
Ok, so maybe you’re not me. Maybe you watch films for the pure escapism of it or maybe you don’t even think about all of the rigorously planned elements that go into a movie that make it feel like it was meant to be that way. The funny thing about Funny People is that it makes you have that kind of experience no matter what kind of person you are.
Putting busting loose aside for a second, what is the difference between the narrative of “movies” and “real life.”?
1. Movies have characters you can root for and neatly wrapped endings whereas life is full of ambivalence and non resolution.
These characters are credibly unsympathetic and they experience very little personal transformation.
2. Movies take place in a fictional universe with fictional characters.
This takes place in L.A. with characters who are only fictional because their name is different than in real life. E.G.
Adam Sandler plays a rich comedian turned movie star who makes shallow family movies.
Seth Rogen plays a young comedian taken under the wing of Sandler (in real life just the same happened with him and director Judd Apatow)
Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) plays the mother of two who are actually her kids in real life. At multiple times during the movie, we watch old real clips of all of these actors in the context of their characters’ stories.
Not to mention all these actors (featured on the poster) are or could be considered “funny people.” At this point the line between fiction and reality really begins to blur.
3. Comedies especially have contrived situations with formulaic structures.
Most of the time you’re watching brutally honest performances in normal life situations while the movie merely threatens to have a plot:
Is it about a young comedian starting his career?
Is it about an old comedian dealing with impending death?
Is it about a couple trying to rekindle an old flame?
Is this not starting to seem like real life?
I dare you to watch this movie and not think of the elaborately constructed world inside the movie or the elaborately constructed world outside the movie theater. This movie continues to capture real human experience to a frightening degree while also calling attention to the fact that it’s not real.
So what’s the point?
If you’ve ever believed that life was an illusion, most likely your brain or one of your five senses brought you back into believing it was real. Maybe you felt fear that you wouldn’t have enough money to live or joy from getting promoted. Maybe you stubbed your toe. Maybe you got rejected by that person you really wanted to know more about.
Like swing dancing, dating, and tug of war, awakening from your state of living dreaming is a push-pull process.
If you were to pose the question of “why make the movie feel so real?” to Judd Apatow, he would probably answer “to make the illusion better.” And then ask him “why make the illusion better?” he would answer “to make the emotional experience of the movie more real.” This could go on forever…
Modern day Hollywood is one of the greatest manifestations of an illusion making machine that we have in our experience. It is one of the greatest “clues” to what’s really going on. So much money, time, effort, and energy is put into such complex illusions to make them feel “real.” Robert Scheinfeld even equates living to being in a “full-immersion movie.”
And that requires being fully immersed. Which means coming up for air only so often to see the truth. So now that you can’t see which way is up, is the awakening that you experience when you do the process another, deeper illusion?
Is it the honesty and truth poking through the artifice? Or is the honesty and truth you feel right now just an illusion itself? For the record, I believe that it is real truth poking through the cloud cover. I believe the hologram pulls you further towards immersion in order to further convince you of the truth. Every time I experience transcendence or the truth, it’s not long for the hologram to do its darndest to convince me that it’s real again. In one moment I see the Matrix and in the next I’m paying taxes. Then I realize the taxes are an illusion, but then I have a flat tire. How far can this rabbit hole go?
Like watching Funny People, I think busting loose includes a happy coexistence of the illusion and the truth – one where each illuminates the other.
What do you “think”?