Saturday, December 7, 2013

Jason goes to Holehead the Roxie and watches IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?

So I meant to make it to Holehead for the 7:00 screening of ON AIR. But I had to work a little late, and the Balboa Theater is way up in the hinterlands of the Outer Richmond. If it was still at the Roxie like in previous years, I would be there in plenty of time, but by the time I got on BART it was clear I wouldn't make it there before 7:30 at the absolute earliest (if I didn't have to wait for a bus at all.) So...I just stopped at 16th and Mission and caught...whatever was playing at the Roxie.

IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY? is an animated conversation between director Michel Gondry and linguist/intellectual/activist/one of the most influential men in the world Noam Chomsky. And when I say it's animated, it's both lively and presented as animation. In fact, in the introductory remarks, said over animated footage of him animating the movie, Gondry explains how all movies purporting to show the philosophy and ideas of a person is actually a lie. The director necessarily has to edit it down to a watchable size, and in doing so the director chooses what to keep, what to throw out, and how to arrange everything. Therefore the movie becomes the director's philosophy, not the subjects. Seeing no way to overcome that, Gondry instead uses animation to emphasize this, to show the unmistakable hand of the director. Also, it makes it a lot more fun to watch than a talking head.

By the Way, in the same way this review is not Gondry's vision, nor Chomsky's. I've done my best to accurately reflect the film (from memory, after one viewing) but I choose the words and what points to emphasize. As much as I'm trying to tell you about Chomsky, or Gondry, I know (and you should to) that I will end up telling you more about myself.

Chomsky himself is a fascinating man and one of the preeminent thinkers on the subject of thinking. I love his explanation of Galileo's great philosophical leap--to be puzzled by what seems simple and obvious (e.g., the Aristotelian view that rocks fall and steam rises because it is finding it's natural place.) And he claims our understanding of linguistics is still at the Aristotelian stage and needs to find the capacity to be puzzled by things that seem simple. For example, what's a dog? Gondry starts by musing how he saw pictures of dogs (or tigers, or any number of exotic animals) before he saw one in real life, and it's interesting how he can know a creature is a dog the first time he sees it in real life. But Chomsky counters this, and explains that what you think of when you think 'dog' is not the physical form. It's something physicists can't measure ( a physicist I have to be stubborn and insist someday we'll be able to do anything.) It's "psychic continuity"--whatever trait a being (or even object) maintains whether or not it changes its physical form. If a spell was cast on a dog and turned it into a camel, then the spell was reversed and it returned to its dog form, a child can tell you it was the same being all along. Similarly if I take a branch from a tree and use it to grow a new tree, it has the same DNA as the original tree. But even if it grows to the same shape it's not the same tree. For that matter (and this part isn't in the movie, it's something I thought about during this discussion) I don't know if I have any molecule in my body that has been there since birth. Yet my "me-ness" has persisted uninterrupted quite well, thank you. Here's the kicker--as far as we can tell, other animals don't think that way. For them if a dog turned into a camel, that's a different animal. Humans are the only ones who think in terms of psychic continuity, as far as we know.

Anyway, the conversation continues, it becomes self-referential as Gondry starts talking about wanting to finish the movie so Chomsky can see it, and commenting on the rough cuts. This poor blog couldn't possibly cover it all, but it's a fascinating conversation that occasionally made my head spin but always kept my interest.

Running Time: 88 minutes
My Total Minutes: 344,304

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