Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Death is the road to awe
A poetic line from lovely film I watched last night called The Fountain, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. The movie deals with death and what comes after. It suggests we should embrace death as a chance to learn and experience, rather than fearing it.
In a way, learning not to fear death is the ultimate journey to learning to have joy in life. I think that's the message of this film ... and I think that's, on one level, what this line "Death is the road to awe" is saying. And indeed, once the main character of this film learns to embrace death, he reaches a different plain of reality and enlightenment. (I know I'm making it sound peagan and freaky, but it really is beautiful.)
Joseph Campbell teases this message out of the riddle of the Sphinx from Oedipus. The riddle says "What is it that walks on four legs, then on two legs, and then on three?" The answer, of course, as Oedipus deduces, is man. Four legs as a crawling child; two legs as an adult; three legs as an old man with a cane.
Campbell tells us "The riddle of the Sphinx is the image of life itself through time—childhood, maturity, age, and death. When without fear you have faced and accepted the riddle of the Sphinx, death has no further hold on you ... The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life's joy. One can experience an unconditional affirmation of life only when one has accepted death, not as contrary to life but as an aspect of life."
The Fountain, in a way, is a visual representation of coming to terms with the Sphinx's riddle. There's nothing to fear in the inevitability of death, and once that is realized, the real beauty of life opens up.