It started with La Strada.
I knew that as a film nerd I was supposed to be familiar with Fellini's films, but I hadn't made much of an effort to get to them. To be honest, I was kind of afraid that they wouldn't have aged well, or that I would find them pretentious, because while part of me wants to be educated and worldly, part of me is still the middle schooler who went back to the theater to see Mortal Kombat again and again. Finally, my low level guilt got bad enough that I decided to go ahead and do it: I was going to sit through La Strada, the first film to ever win the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Film.
And it was amazing. La Strada is existential without being heavy handed. It's tragic without feeling emotionally manipulative. Even though it's from three or four generations ago and from a vastly different country the jokes still play. I was really delighted with it. So delighted, in fact, that I looked down at the cat who was napping in my lap and decided to try to wake her up to make her get in on the action. I'd brought so much great culture into my room and she had slept through all of it. It kind of made me mad, because nobody brought Fellini to me; I had to go out and get it for myself.
The very next day I watched something that was... less than Felliniesque. I don't remember what it was, but it's very possible it involved barbarians, decapitations or both. As the movie dragged on I started to grow disappointed in myself for wasting my time with something I should have known was going to be no good. I looked down at my lap where the cat had once again fallen asleep and thought: you've got the right idea, buddy.
For a long time nothing concrete happened with that thought, but it didn't really go away, either. Like a lot of people in my generation I'm media oversaturated. I have a lot of music and movies and culture at my disposal, and for the most part I enjoy all the variety that I can access so easily. Still, there are times it gets overwhelming and I have to ask myself: is this really what I want to be doing with my time? I kept thinking about the cat taking a nap during both of those movies. The cat didn't feel like it was missing anything. And you know what? It didn't, really.
I mean, it did, because La Strada was great. But we're told that art is the solution to our existential problems, that knowledge and truth and beauty are the lofty ideals that we should be constantly aspiring to, but that isn't the whole truth. Underneath the civilized veneer humans are still animals and we have animal needs that have to be met. I was wasting my time most of the nights that I stayed up late finishing something I was too stubborn to quit; I should have given into my body's need to sleep. I was also making a mistake all of the times when instead of eating a real meal at home I rushed to get to the theater on time and ended up eating a bunch of crappy snacks for dinner. (Not that I'm knocking crappy snacks, because I totally love crappy snacks.)
If we dig a bit deeper into that thought we can find an existential problem that's actually pretty serious. It's not just about overscheduling my life in an attempt to keep up with all the information coming at me – it's a basic question of what I'm supposed to be doing with my time on Earth. I feel like there's something I'm supposed to accomplish or do with my time and energy, and mostly I spend that time trying to become smarter, more well read, more empathetic, more open. For the most part, I can live with that. But there are times I have to second guess that, because what if I'm not actually doing something noble? What if I'm merely entertaining myself?
But whenever I go down that rabbit hole I think about the cat, who is sleeping away most of it's life and seems totally fine with it. She seems to be enjoying the hell out of her life, and as far as I can tell she's doing what she was put on Earth to do. Maybe I am wasting my time, but I'm still doing what I was put on Earth to do. Who knows?
So am I kidding with the Cat Vs. Kirk conceit? Yes and no. I understand that it's a comical way to look at things, but it also gets at something fundamental about how we live our lives. Every opportunity comes with an opportunity cost. Every time I roll the dice and say “I'm going to watch this movie and hope that it blows my mind” I'm opening myself up to a new experience that might be really great, but I'm also cutting myself off from the other things I could have done instead. If I end up watching some crap about barbarians, decapitations or both – well, maybe I would have been better off just taking a nap.
But then again, if I roll the dice and end up watching La Strada....