In a filmmaking style similar to that of Everything is Illuminated
or even Napolean Dynamite
, this German film shows us low-key, everyday scenes in the life of newly retired miner, Schultze, as he begins to discover the zest of life after a long period of monotony. The camera shots are usually done from a single angle, giving us a sense of actually being present at the scene. The filmmakers don't seem to feel the need to keep everything moving 90 miles an hour to keep us entertained. Instead, they show us the beauty (and understated humor) of the kinds of scenes we live in day-by-day.
Schultze appears mildly depressed after he is "given an early retirement" from his job. He goes about a stodgy routine that never seems to change, always fulfilling the role that is expected of him, including dutifully playing polka music, just as his father did. Until one evening, he hears Louisiana jazz music on the radio. He is intrigued...drawn in...he teaches himself to play the one song that he heard. He loves it. He can't stop playing it. The love of the jazz leads him to learn to cook jambalaya in a very amusing scene. It leads him to go to America...making a boat trip down the Louisiana delta lands. And as he does, this once stodgy miner begins to really live life for perhaps the first time.
Many movies have carried the theme of "seize the day," but sometimes in very unhealthy ways. For example, Rent
showed us its version in gratuitous sexual perversions and drug addiction. No matter where pleasure led (even to death through AIDS or to causing someone else harm), it was held up as the highest virtue. Responsibility of any kind was spurned; this was the ultimate "me generation" movie/play. Another disappointing rendition of the carpe deim
theme was in the well-acted (but depressing) The Hours
. In this film, seizing the day included even suicide...The philosophy here was that the ultimate fulfillment was in having power over your own life. To which, I replied, "That's it???" Even one of my favorite films, Dead Poets Society
, riffed a bit off of that theme. All of these films are a bit disappointing because of their fundamental self-centeredness (particularly the first two). But Schultze
inspired me in a different way. It showed a man living life to the full by enjoying creation...having new, socially constructive experiences...meeting new people. It is a carpe diem
that implies getting out of your narrow view of the world and learning about other cultures. It is also a carpe diem
that encourages us to do the thing that brings our heart joy. There is a difference between quick thrills (Rent
) and legitimate joy (Schultze
What brings us joy may break people's preconceived notions of us, but it will ultimately make our heart larger, more open to others, more fully aware of our world. It won't be joy at others' expense. And that's a carpe diem
I can get excited about!