Unbearable Lightness of Being

I’ve always been a huge fan of philosophy, much to the chagrin of friends and even those in college who’ve had to study it with me. This same interest has, at least in part contributed to my critical nature (I can hear the gasps now), so whenever it overlaps with this blog, the claws have to come out.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (based on the book of the same name), deals with Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis), a Czech neurosurgeon and ladies man who’s only lasting relationship is one equally as care-free as the person it’s with, Sabina (Lena Olin), an erratic artist. When called to a small spa town to perform a surgery he meets Tereza (Juliette Binoche), a waitress looking to escape, who soon arrives on his doorstep in Prague. Tereza frets over Tomas’ fidelity but eventually follows him and Sabina to Geneva after Communism takes a hold on their homeland.

From a philosophical point of view there are two ways in which to view it; that of Nietzsche and his ideals of eternal return; and that of pure existentialism. Sadly, neither are completely successful as from a purely character driven perspective both of the main characters (Tomas and Tereza) appear rudimentary. Their actions are often too disjointed or accentuated to allow them simply be believable protagonists. Even the ideas they embody are too simplistic and yet at the same time, entirely too close to the close to the surface, meaning that any development in their character is far from organic.

Pacing does nothing to alleviate these flaws as at just over 170 minutes, the time given to illustrate the carefree nature of Tomas and Sabina means they are effectively void of any moral standards, floatting from one sexual encounter and investing nothing concrete in any relationship. Binoche on the other hand, perhaps because of her young age when this was made, comes across as awkward, alarmingly self-aware and even hysterical at times. She is never confident in what she’s expressing, hesitant in every action she takes. Daniel Day-Lewis is proficient if nothing else at portraying a remorseless sex addict, alas the elementary nature of his character allows for the audience to never invest in him as a person. Olin in a similar vein does the limited persona granted to her justice, yet revels in any excuse to wearing little or no clothing, so much so that it’s easy to worry about her emotional well being (though it is highly entertaining to watch a woman so confident in her sexuality, despite her emotional shallowness).

The supposed romantic undercurrent is so fickle, that the only time Tomas and Tereza seem to be happy is when both are in a place where he had no opportunity to sleep with anyone else (though given time, I’m sure he could have become at least bi-curious). From a realistic standpoint, it’s impossible not ask why, if he truly loves her, he ever made a commitment he could never possibly keep. Worse still, Binoche comes across as dramatic and masochistic for investing so much time in a relationship that has no discernible benefits making her entirely one-dimensional.

Once upon a time I really loved this movie but time seems to have allowed me to grow beyond the childish attitudes of the cast, where nothing is of importance or their fault. This shallowness never allows the story become anything more than a rather gratuitous vanity piece.

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