Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Last night I watched Renaissance, an animated film from 2006. It’s one of the more visually striking films I’ve seen in a while, and worth taking a look at for that reason alone. As I watched it, though, I gradually became more and more irritated and eventually a bit offended by the message of the film.

It’s near future, dystopic science fiction set in mid-21st Century Paris. As we eventually find out, a scientist has discovered a method of maintaining life indefinitely, effectively producing immortality. The secret will be exploited by the evil cosmetics/life science corporation she works for so that the company will have power over life and death. The protagonist, a postmodern Harry Callahan from the Casbah type cop, puts an end to the threat posed by the scientist’s research by putting a bullet in her head. (She does eventually come across as arrogant, though only in a scene that’s out of character with her presentation throughout the rest of the movie, and the fact that she’s presented as someone who needs a bullet put in her head by an aggressive male cop when her main sin seems to have been being a bit arrogant was part of what disturbed me, though not the aspect of what disturbed me that I’m mainly writing about here.)

The movie confuses and conflates two messages, that a single entity monopolizing immortality would be bad (to which I’d agree), and that immortality per se would be bad. If anything, it’s the second message that’s ultimately emphasized. The key message of the movie is “Without death, life is meaningless.” That’s not my abstraction from the film, but a direct quote from a pivotal moment, which is then replayed in flashback form a bit later (right before the bullet in the head) in case anyone didn’t get the take away point.

I realize that my taking offense is probably an overreaction on my part based in the fact that I lost my own partner, Reginald, to cancer so recently. Still, that sentiment that death is what makes life meaningful seems at best to rationalize the inevitable as virtue or wisdom. Personally, I don’t want to live forever, but that’s because I don’t want to live forever without Reginald. I also wouldn’t want to live forever in pain or in an invalid state, but if I could live forever, healthily, with Reginald, I would very much like that.

(The idea that death is what makes life meaningful, in addition to being a rationalization [if we’ve got to die, then that’s a good thing] seems perhaps a misapplication of market thinking where it doesn’t really apply. Death makes life and our days scarce, and scarce things are more valuable. But that sort of supply and demand thinking only really works well for tradable items, like gold. We can’t trade our days, and supply, demand, scarcity, and so forth apply to life and death only in vague and inexact ways at best.)

In any case, if death is what gives your life meaning, that’s just sad. I certainly didn’t need death to enter the picture for life with my partner to have meaning.