Tuesday, July 17, 2012

After Life.


I have been watching a plethora of phenomenal foreign films--mostly in Danish, but one (tonight) in Japanese. This night's film was slow, but still beautiful. It was also centered around two themes that I deeply cherish: memory and recollection.

In the film, when people die, they all go to the same place, for one week. While there they meet with counselors to help them choose a single memory from their lives. The memory is to be the most meaningful, most joyous, or most representative. It is generally a very small memory--sitting on the bench with the beloved, swinging and eating rice balls amidst family and bamboo, or wearing a red dress in a cafe and dancing with one's older brother. They have only three days to choose.

It was beautiful to listen to the counselors and deceased tease out the memories, and try to narrow down to the one. It was beautiful to think about what memory I would choose, and how, and why. What came next was also beautiful, as well as thought provoking: After the memory was selected, the workers helped them recreate the memory viscerally and visually, in film. The ones remembering were present for the recapturing of the memory, to feel it and participate in it again, but this time there were others too, in their intimate moments, and the clouds that looked like cotton candy were now strung on invisible wire, and made out of cotton balls, making the memory the same, but not the same; real, but less real. On the last day the movies would be screened. The new memories would be screened, and then the people would go on, where they presumably live with or in that memory, alone, with no other memories, for eternity.

I told Spencer that part, and he thought it sounded very sad, to have only one memory. It wasn't necessarily sad to me. It mostly made me think of Nietzsche, and his eternal recurrence of the same. If the angel-demon came to us, and said we had to live one memory over for the rest of our life (or the rest of our eternal life), would we rejoice, or would we weep? This particular case does bring up important things about forgetting though. I would say that even in the recollection of the single memory, there was forgetting. The woman couldn't remember exactly how the dance went. Another women sat in a circle making large rice balls with strangers to try to recapture the rice balls she ate with loved ones.

One women didn't want to forget anything. She told the man she loved (that she could not tell that she loved) that she would never choose just one memory. She would never leave that place where she could keep them all. She would stay there, keeping him inside of her forever. He chose to leave, to continue, but promised that he would remember everything he learned there, that while it took him a long time to look at his life as a life of happiness, he finally understood that his life brought happiness to someone else. And it did. I presume to multiple someone else's.

But that knowledge allowed him to select one memory, and to continue onto eternal remembrance. Still, in his case (which was rewarded special permission) he chose a memory from the in between place, where he sat on a bench and saw a glimmer of joy in his life, that allowed him to look at it with love's vision. When they filmed him on that bench, he was looking at them--the filmmakers, and those he worked with. Those he was. So what did he remember from his memory? The internal thoughts, or his outward view? I hope both, somehow.

There was one earlier scene were a resident was permitted to watch videos of his life, to get ideas for his single memory. He was warned that they would not be quite like his memories, because they came from outside of him. Only later did I realize that they could have just found the day, the actual memory from each person's videos, to show them for all eternity. Instead they recreated it anew, from their memory. I wonder if it has something to do with the warning: They are choosing to preserve the deceaseds' memory of the event, rather than the event itself.

I told my mom about this movie tonight, nearly immediately after watching it. It is her 60th birthday. She told me almost immediately after telling her the premise that she knew exactly what memory she would choose. It was when my siblings and I were young, in Klamath Falls, Oregon, at a park she used to take us to in the Summer. We swam there. The little ones (including myself) swam in the kiddie pool, the wade pool. The others could go deeper. They were big kids then. My mom told me they played shark. We sometimes went to A&W after. They still had the frosty mugs and cheap kiddie cones. Her friends would be there too, with their tiny ones. It was a happy time for her, and for us also.

If I chose a memory with my mom, it would be sometime when I was young, and having a rough day, and she would climb into my bed with me, and put the covers over both of us. She would lay there and talk to just me, for a long time. And I would feel better. Or it would be when I was sick, and she would let me wear a tiara and eat popsicles. (These thoughts also make me wonder if every good memory must have a little bad in it. But her swim one seemed all good, so I don't know.)

If I chose a memory with my dad, it would be the week of my wedding. We played basketball at the local church, by ourselves--the old games we used to play. I almost beat him at horse for the first time in my life. The reason: he needed eye surgery, and wasn't scheduled to have it for some time, so his focus was fuzzy. He still beat me, but it was delightful anyway.

With Spencer: maybe the first day we ate pizza together, and I couldn't stop smiling. Or the day we got engaged for real, and we danced in his sister's living room and grinned at each other for a long time. Or when we biked away after our wedding and waved goodbye to so many people that we love. Too many, maybe.

With others: still other precious, defining memories. The narrowing down is the hardest. The friend whom I watched it with told me she would want an event, where everyone she loved was in the same place. That truly sounds like my idea of Heaven.


And you? What memory would you choose? How would you like to spend your after life?

4 comments:

IngridLola said...

This sounds like a film Derik and I would love to watch together. He especially loves Japanese movies.

I don't know what memory I would choose. I think it would either be spending time in Palm Springs with my cousins when I was a little girl, or a sort of transcendent experience I had when I was walking through the Tuileries in Paris. I think the second one is memorable to me because it grew out of a particularly painful emotional time. I suspect that the first one is dear to me just because it's so far in the past and I've idealized it now.

Isn't memory fascinating?

eunice said...

your movie review is amazing, i love the japanese film aesthetic, and i'm going to request after life from the local library today.

i'm still in the midst of some crises and can't dwell on past memories too much lest i dissolve into overwhelm. can the ever-changing present moment -- surviving it -- count?

kaci + tom said...

this idea is too much for me to process...i think i would probably choose a moment from my honeymoon, but just the thought of having to choose makes me feel panicked because i wish so much that i can live long enough to build up even more wonderful memories.

i loved hearing about your favorite moments.

Rachel Hunt said...

I have changed my mind: I would be a small child, picking weeds with my grandpa, at his house in Baker City, Oregon: 1940 Colorado. That is how I would like to remember life best.