Saw I Heart Huckabees last night, and was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't 100 per cent succesful. It wasn't the best movie ever made, but at least it wasn't all exploding fireballs and shoot-em-ups. An all-star cast in a film about philosophy was kind of fun, the sort of picture we used to see in college, that they don't make anymore. The type of thing Woody Allen did, before he ran off with Mia Farrow's adopted daughter.
What was nice about this David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey, Three Kings) production? An element of 60's/70's nostalgia. The cast, featuring Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, and Isabelle Huppert as well as current "It Boy" Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, and Naomi Watts, was a throwback to The Graduate, Laugh-In, and The Lacemaker.The concerns of the film, the interest in French Existentialism vs. American Optimism (or Leibnizian Monadism, parodied by Voltaire in Candide), with Tomlin and Hoffman as contemporary Dr. Panglosses. There were some 1960s style graphic effects. There were lots of Ying-Yang conflicts: the Good Philosophers v. the Bad Philosophers; America vs. Europe; parents v. children; working class v. business class; experience v. thought; love v. lust; commerce v. environmentalism; skepticism v. religious faith; and even Black v. White. It is about the examined life being truly worth living, and a not-too veiled parable of psychotherapy.
An offhand remark from Lily Tomlin, about "that September thing" in relation to a fireman client, is one clue that Russell's film is in reaction to 9/11. Interestingly, it never mentions the threat of terrorism, yet the re-examination of life goals clearly was prompted by this struggle, just as the disastrous Lisbon earthquake and Spanish Inquisition provide the backdrop to Voltaire's tale.
The message of Candide, to cultivate one's garden, permeates I Heart Huckabees. For those of a philosophical bent, who don't need lots of action, this quirky, personal film is thought-provoking and well worth watching.