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Is Life Worth Living? Kubrick Answers


His answer shows the extraordinary capacity of facing one’s own end, with joy.

In 1968, Playboy magazine interviewed filmmaker Stanley Kubrick about multiple topics. The interviewer may not have expected quite the passionate defense of life that followed the question as to whether life is worth living. Life, according to Kubrick, has no defined purpose. The interviewer followed up this point by asking, “do you feel it’s worth living?” Here’s Kubrick’s reply:

Yes, for those who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces a man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre (a keen enjoyment of living), their idealism — and their assumption of immortality.

This introduction seems to present the child, as in Buddhism, as that being who’s alien to the evils of disease, suffering, and death. Everything one sees and feels is new and wonderful. The world, however, confronts one with human horror, and this detracts from one’s faith in goodness. But according to Kubrick:

Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining.

This is where Kubrick’s most clearly existentialist streak comes into the picture. He states that:

The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

It seems that only by looking fiercely at the abyss – to borrow Nietzsche’s phrase – will the abyss return our gaze. Life is a blink between two eternities, and what we do with this time depends entirely upon us.

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