Originally published at madaboutmoviez.com.
Movie: Ship of Theseus
Writers: Anand Gandhi, Pankaj Kumar, Khushboo Rakha
Director: Anand Gandhi
Watched at Mumbai Film Festival 2012
A blind photographer’s boyfriend describes to her the photos she took of a scuffle on a road. This is the editing process, a peaceful homely moment of stillness and love in two ever-moving lives. There’s one in which an auto is passing by and only a hand is visible; he likes it, and says so. The moment transmutes. She hates the accidental in art. A fight begins, which has been sitting on the bylines for a while now.
This is a rare, perhaps the only, moment of emotional truth in Anand Gandhi’s sombre, ambitious Ship of Theseus. What happened here is probably not immediately obvious to everyone, but it is a marvellous exhibition of the irrationality at the centre of every person’s way of living life. There are a couple of quotes that might be appropriate here:
lest ye become
And if you gaze
into the abyss,
the abyss gazes
also into you.
“In the midst of a line, or with an eyebrow raised in exasperation, [Ricky Gervais] can capture the moment when self-doubt hardens, out of necessity, into self-confidence.”
-Stephanie Zacharek, in her review of The Invention of Lying.
Nietzche was mad for the last ten years of his life, and The Invention of Lying is a dark comedy that has an entirely ambiguous ‘happy’ ending.
Maybe it’s time to give some context to this discussion. Ship of Theseus consists of three stories of people coming across rifts in their worldviews. The first, a blind photographer gets another person’s eyes and finds that she can’t function any longer; the second, a Jain monk needs a liver transplant and therefore medicines which have been tested first on animals; and the third a nice and insular stockbroker living with his activist granny comes across the possibility that his new kidney might be stolen from a poor person (it’s not but he goes on a crusade on the guy’s behalf anyway).*
This is extremely difficult terrain; the problems posed by the need to live well in such a large and interconnected world are deep and nearly impossible to solve, and as a result any given worldview is deeply flawed and people cope by ignoring the existence of Nietzche’s abyss in their worldviews. Well-made stories about people coming face to face with any of their various abysses can take any form from comedy (Wodehouse, especially the Jeeves and Wooster series) to weird fiction (anything by Lovecraft) to tragedy (Hamlet, Othello) to arthouse (The Tree of Life, 8 1/2) to popular TV series (House MD, Gossip Girl), and are always fascinating. Few, however, tackle it with the explicitness of Ship of Theseus.
But many tackle it with the complete ineptitude that Gandhi here shows. These are stories of perturbations deep within souls, and require a deftness of touch and an appreciation for the dark and the darkly funny that this movie just doesn’t have.
Instead of actually understanding these mental states and coming up with a coherent aesthetic scheme to portray them, our man basically puts in lots of good-looking cinematography (and it is good-looking) and even more vacuous bullshit masquerading as ponderous dialogues.
A perfect synechdoche of Gandhi’s skim and fuck it approach is the name and the epigram. The myth of Theseus is a brilliant and complex one, though best remembered for his foray into the labyrinth when he killed the minotaur. So why is the movie called Ship of Theseus? The epigram explains it: he made a really long voyage, and all the parts of his ship must got replaced during it, so was it still the same ship? Here’s an alternative question: he must have also had a lot of alcohol – was any of that alcohol ingested by way of sips or was it all gulps and glugs?
I’ll leave you with something that made me laugh a lot:
*Negative brownie points to anyone who doesn’t figure out how these three are connected.