Casablanca is one of my favourite films and I was glad that it was amongst the films selection on board a long haul flight I had recently taken. There are films that I can watch repeatedly and some of the scenes in these movies still move me despite having watched them again and again. I would have found such films less poignant when I was in my teens as I used to believe that the choices are our own and it is within our power to make them for which we must be responsible. As time goes by, I realize that there are always difficult choices and some things are just not meant to be.
|Translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim|
Milan Kundera writes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, “ We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.” since ‘the first rehearsal for life is life itself’”. Which shall we choose ? Weight or lightness?
The premise of Kundera’s novel is based on its author’s analysis about the dichotomy between lightness and weight in the light of Nietzsche’s philosophy about eternal return ( I must qualify that I have not read Nietzche) and whether we can combat fate by choosing to live under weight like Tereza and Franz or lightness like the characters, Tomas and Sabina. As the novel progresses, I find that both lightness and weight are manifested in all the main characters in the novel, some more apparent than others.
Tereza yearned for her mother’s love and was willing to do anything to gain her mother’s love and she became the ‘culprit’ for her mother’s unhappiness. One day she decided to escape her old life by finding Tomas with whom she had recently acquainted when he happened to be in her town, a small Czech town some hundred and twenty five miles from Prague. Tomas, a surgeon, went to the hotel restaurant where she was working as a waitress. When Tomas ordered a cognac, the radio happened to be playing the composition by Beethoven and she had known the music from the time a string quartet from Prague visited her town. Whenever she heard Beethoven, she would be touched. However if it was not Tomas, she might not have noticed the music.
‘Chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us. We read its message much as gypsies read the images made by coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup.’
To assuage Tereza’s sufferings, Tomas married her and gave her a puppy. Tereza wanted commitment from Tomas who was incapable of giving up his incessant womanizing. When they moved to Zurich, Tereza returned to Prague leaving Tomas behind because she could not live abroad. After two days of her absence ,Tomas felt like he had been hit by a weight and he had to leave his job and he said “ Es muss sein” to the Swiss doctor who had offered him the position. Es muss sein. It must be. Tomas found himself being burdened by his love for Tereza and he returned to Prague to be with Tereza.
Sabina, a painter who had a liaison with Tomas would be ‘charmed more by betrayal than fidelity’ and she had commitment issues when she was with Franz, a professor in Geneva. Franz was drawn to Sabina’s persona who was a revelation to him as she came from a land where there were incidents of ‘persecution, ‘enemy tanks’, prison’ , banned books and he felt that by contrast his life was light. Franz desired weight as opposed to Sabina who represented lightness and to Frank, Sabina represented a different dimension .
‘Sabina protested. She said that conflict, drama ,and tragedy didn’t mean a thing; there was nothing inherently valuable in them, nothing deserving of respect or admiration.’
Sabina had no love for that drama while Franz who, despite having written and published several scholarly books that had received considerable acclaims, felt that words that had been spewed out were not real life as they were ‘a sea of words with no weight and no resemblance to life’.
How often we feel weighed down by our commitments and ties and we struggle to gain an equilibrium between breaking free and a sense of belonging and finding meaning in our lives.Love, freedom and death make up the meaning of our lives. We desire lightness yet we cannot help feeling the weight as we celebrate our ties and commitments. Relationships are what give meanings and value in our lives. Muss es sein? Es muss sein. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel which I hope to read again as I have not fully digested all of it and I may have oversimplified my understanding of the novel. The sentences are beautifully written ( as translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim) and the way the narrator interjects with the author's musings makes me want to read the book again.