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Saturday, September 6, 2014

First World Problems















The synopsis of the movie "Frank" according to RottenTomatoes:

"...an offbeat comedy about a young wannabe musician, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), who finds himself out of his depth when he joins an avant-garde pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender), a musical genius who hides himself inside a large fake head, and his terrifying bandmate Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal)."

The film touches upon several interesting themes dealing with self discovery and self growth. It's not immediately apparent at first, but the two main characters of the film, John and Frank, are quite similar and they have chosen similar paths to discover themselves.  They both come from comfortable first-world lives where they lived without any problems and with loving parents.  Most of us would consider such a life a blessing since billions of people around the world don't even have access to shelter or clean water.  But there is perhaps a psychological cost to being born into such comfortable settings: it can create dull individuals who lack passion and don't have any real direction in their lives.  They do not know what they want to do. They have no calling and they feel like they have no purpose.  John is a great example of such an individual.  He has a typical and generic soul-sucking office job that many of us are familiar with either through direct experience or through having general knowledge about the nature of white-collar work in developed countries.  John lives at home with his parents and they love him and take care of him. This whole crazy trip that he takes and how he sacrifices his job and leaves his friends and family behind is about putting himself in a foreign and difficult situation in hopes of experiencing something difficult and powerful that will hopefully shape him into someone more interesting and give his music some SOUL  He is craving new powerful experiences that can potentially help mold him into a more interesting person with a genuine passion for writing good music.

Our lives in the United States (and I imagine in other developed countries)  are too easy and  people living here look for ways to create ordeals for themselves and make their lives more difficult. The greatest musicians, writers, artists, revolutionaries and a lot of interesting and passionate people in general have often come from difficult childhoods and led ordeal-filled, difficult, and/or interesting lives. They either lived in war zones or in extreme poverty or they had a lot of tragedy in their family like their parents, children, or siblings dying. Essentially, there is often times some kind of rough or difficult past and powerful experiences that helped shape who they eventually became. These powerful experiences also helped form their passions.  Many of us living in these comfortable environments lack such character and passion-forming experiences. We have to actively seek them. This is why John is a character that most of us can relate to.

Frank has also come from a background similar to John's.  This is made clear during one of the last scenes in the film.  Frank has gone missing and John is trying to find him.  Eventually, John tracks Frank down and finds him in a small town in Kansas. As he is speaking with Frank's parents, they talk to him about how Frank had such a wonderful childhood with two loving parents. John realizes how similar him and Frank actually are and directly comments on how parallel their childhoods have been.  This similar upbringing helps explain the path that Frank took.  He left his comfortable life and tried something extremely new and foreign to him. Hell, having a mask on full time is as random as it possibly gets. He joined up with two suicidal and mentally unstable band members (one of whom has a fetish for being sexually intimate with mannequins), an additional two members who don't even speak English, and a violent woman who is borderline insane as well.  He put himself in a difficult environment to help shape who he would become.  This is exactly what John tried to do in leaving his comfortable life and joining this band on their journey.


Of course, Frank's journey seems more genuine than John's. John does grow a lot in the process but it seems that he is constantly disconnected from the experience. He is on his phone and computer the whole time. He is obsessed with twitter followers and facebook /likes and comments and just wants attention in general. He doesn't seem to be doing all of this for the experience, self growth, and self discovery. A huge part of it for him seems to be craving the attention and fame. If that's your motivation in art, your music is going to be passion-less and dull. This is exactly what happens to John.  The film starts off with him trying to find his musical style and to write genuine lyrics and the film ends with him not having accomplished this goal or having come any closer to it.  This is potent commentary on what happens when art is not pursued for its intrinsic value but instead it is pursued for the external social and material benefits that it can bring.

Ultimately, most of us seek to to find paths to help unlock our passions. "Frank" provides wonderful commentary on this subject through the lives of John and Frank.

2 comments:

  1. I just watched Frank last night since you'd recommended it, and I was not disappointed. The thing that resonated with me the most was another similarity between Frank and John: they both had a kind of compelling vision. Frank's vision was the main thing keeping the band together against all odds, and even managed to compel them to "expand your corners" as he liked to say. Given the personalities at play, this is no small feat. But John also had a vision: of success and popularity, though his vision was compelling to no one but, crucially, Frank.

    What I find interesting and troubling is that John's vision wasn't bankrupt—it's not inherently wrong to want to be liked—but in this particular situation it was destructive, like a weed choking a flower. And I keep thinking about why, for fear that my own genuinely-held passion could, in certain situations, be a force of ill. Was the tragedy just that Frank was too receptive to John's vision, at the cost of his own? Or that John was particularly exploitative in pursuing his? Or is the internet to blame (*shakes fist*) for equating weak or ironic retweets/views as a stand-in for genuine engagement? Or are we all just plants trying to grow, and whether you're a weed or a flower—whether your vision is a force of growth or destruction—is just an accident of circumstance?

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    Replies
    1. Awesome man, I am glad you took my recommendation and checked it out.

      I never thought of John having a "vision" too. I guess just like he was blinded by his drive for fame, I was personally blinded by my singular interpretation of him as not really caring about the creative process itself but instead only caring about the benefits a successful creative journey can bring.

      Your comment on how "it's not inherently wrong to want to be liked" is something I struggle with often. I like to spend time cultivating myself as much as possible through art, learning music, reading, exercising, etc etc. But at the same time, I can't help but need social contact to keep my mood stable. Humans are unfortunately wired to be social. Being social in the "ancient times" increased the chances of our ancestors surviving. The ones that survived, potentially had this "needing social contact" characteristic. In modern times, you could essentially survive just fine without being social. Sadly though, such behavior is correlated with numerous health problems and even early death. Not to mention you are ostracized by your others for being "anti-social" or a "shut-in."

      For me personally, I seek to spend time with people who can allow me to grow. But of course, these kinds of people are very rare and they become even more rare as you cultivate yourself and become more knowledgeable. You have less and less people you can learn from and you end up shrinking the pool of people you can form genuine friendships and relationships with.

      I have no idea where I am going with this tangent. I'm just going to stop here! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love reading them as always.

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