San Francisco architect Max Klein (Jeff Bridges) miraculously survives a plane crash and emerges a changed man. When Max’s bizarre behavior alienates his wife (Isabella Rossellini) and son, airline psychiatrist Bill Perlman (John Turturro) puts Max in touch with guilt-ridden fellow crash survivor Carla Rodrigo (Rosie Perez), who lost her 2-year-old in the disaster. Working together, can Max and Carla find their way back to emotional equilibrium?
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rossellini, More
Director: Peter Weir
W hat’s in it for us?
This movie allows us to ask this question about the quality of our actions in our own lives; Do my actions in my life have the quality of acts of creation, or are my actions better described as acts of maintenance?
How can we tell the difference?
Acts of creation, are motivated by clearly imagined desires for our life. These acts intentionally move us toward the fulfillment of those desires. A life like this demonstrates an anticipation of and excitement about the coming results!
Acts of maintenance: There is no clearly defined and desirable destination that is being moved towards. A life like this doesn’t demonstrate the anticipation and excitement of knowing that it is moving towards the fulfillment of desires. Instead it reflects an uneasy sense of striving to avoid what it doesn’t want. In this kind of life actions are chosen to maintain a distance from those things.
Imagine being in a car and taking a trip toward a very exciting and desirable destination. This trip has been planned far in advance, all of the details about the excitement and pleasure that the experience of the chosen destination has to offer, have been imagined again and again during the preparation of this trip. How would it feel to be in that car? What would the facial expressions be like? If there were more than one person in the car what would the conversation sound like?
Now imagine traveling in a car without a chosen and desirable destination in mind. Instead of that, there is only a sense of where you don’t want to be. All the driving decisions are based upon the need to avoid places you don’t want to be, but never result in getting any closer to any place where you do want to be. How does it feel to be in that car? What would the facial expression be like? If there are more than one person in the car what with the conversation sound like?
In Fearless the main character Max Klein was maintaining the absence of fear. His new belief system and therefore his actions after surviving the plane crash were not aligned with creativity. He focused all of his attention on the saving of other people with no consideration for his own needs or desires. In his recollection of the crash experience he remembers himself, in the moments before impact, surrendering his fear of death. Whether this is a real memory or imagined doesn’t matter. What does matter is what he chooses to do with it. In the days and weeks following the crash he begins to formulate a new belief system that tell him that the absence of fear was the very thing that allowed him to survive.
For survivor Max Klein, life now equaled the absence of fear.
It became enough for him to avoid the presence of fear rather than move toward the presence of that which he desired. His actions became acts off maintenance rather than acts of creation. The absence of fear represented life, rather than the experience and fulfillment of self chosen goals and desires that were worthy of his pursuit.
This illustrates an age-old discussion about human existence and the relationship between the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The discussion of this relationship and its significance is often way oversimplified simply because in discussion we rarely reach beyond our intellectual intelligences.
We are not just mind; we are mind, body, heart and spirit.
In the formulation of our idea of a life worthy of living we must access all of those components and the intelligence that they represent. For example, in the pursuit of pleasure, is the pleasure worthy of our pursuit, and why do we seek that pleasure? Do we seek it because it offers us an opportunity to be a more complete and pure expression of ourselves, or does it represent a need to distract us from a pain of another sort, as in the seeking of some form of physical pleasures to avoid emotional pain. It works for a short awhile, but the pain returns when the pleasure is past. If we simply live in our minds then it would be enough to formulate the opinions and belief systems that guide our actions in our lives with just our intellect. But we don’t just live in our minds. To be whole, we are better served to access the intelligences of our entire being to get a more complete guidance of what to choose for our lives. This is the kind of oversimplification the Max Klein suffered in fearless. His new belief system was entirely intellectual, a reaction to traumatic experience of near-death. For Max Klein, life equaled the absence of fear, and so his life became about the avoidance of it.
Look at other life on earth! If a plant stops growing, developing and expanding, it’s dying! If we stop growing developing and expanding in our own lives we are not living at all, we’re slowly dying as Max Klein was in Fearless. In life, can we just avoid things we don’t desire and call that a life? We need to have worthy goals and desires that we’re moving towards, each action being one of creation toward the fulfillment of them. In the end Max Klein saw the light, and instead of being the savior, he decided it was he who needed saving.
Watch this film again and pay particular attention to the significance of the strawberries. Remember early in the film, he tested his new belief system and ate a bowl of strawberries when he knew he shouldn’t. This was not an act of creation. Max Klein was not moving toward a desire to enjoy strawberries. Instead he was proving his new belief system, that the absence of fear equals life.
Remember, you are what you watch!