It’s not often that a movie blows my mind. That’s probably why I refer to them as movies when they purely provide entertainment, and films when they provide something more (the latter usually being associated with indie pictures that hold some artistic merit, and the former with commercial blockbusters whose merit rarely exceeds laughter and/or excitement). This is a general rule, and by no means exclusively true. High grossing movies like Inception have succeeded in blowing my mind, just as lowly cult classics like Fight Club have done, too. I ♥ Huckabees happens to fall somewhere in between, having garnered some commercial success while still preserving some vestige of its indie roots (complete with quirky costume set, charming music score, subtly clever dialogue, compellingly ironic screenplay and overarching paradoxical themes aplenty). Far and away the most impressive — and mind blowing — parts of the film/movie/picture/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, though, are its characters.
Seamlessly directed and cast, I ♥ Huckabees delivers a brilliant and heartbreaking analysis of this generation’s collective qualities, flaws, and psychosocial condition. Its plot is uniquely nuanced, and probes into philosophical implications that prove vast. It can be watched almost vacantly — for a good laugh — or carefully observed as a film whose message succeeds in being at once topical and timeless. There is no main character, because every character is one. There is no central storyline, because each one develops individually, and eventually converges to culminate in a climax simultaneously classic, yet novel. It is nearly Grecian in its tragic comedy and comedic tragedy. It is devastatingly beautiful, memorably witty, at times obscenely crude.
And I fucking hate it.
The film’s genius lies simply in its ability to make you relate so deeply to every character that you loathe him or her almost as deeply as you loathe the corresponding parts of yourself. Every moment of it requires your undivided attention, but doesn’t demand it. Each character is crucial to the plot, but not in a way that’s showy, or transparent. There is not a minute in the film’s 106 that doesn’t expose some latent insecurity or profound societal truth. No moral issue goes unaddressed, no social commentary unspoken, no ethical stone unturned. It is absolutely maddening. Because every second of the movie makes you want to laugh until you cry, and cry until there’s nothing left to do but laugh. All the characters command your love as did your first, and hate as did your last.
The film’s (tentative) protagonist is Albert Markovski (played by Jason Schwartzman), who is introduced to us with a slew of profane inner monologue. A professionally unprofessional environmental activist, Albert struggles throughout the film with attempting to find some deeper meaning to life by exploring the profound meaninglessness of human existence (yes, this is how the fucking thing begins). In an effort to discover his destiny, Albert enlists the help of Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin, respectively), two “existential detectives” who specialize in the unravelling of “The Big Picture” viz., space, time, the universe and all that jazz, to find the significance in a string of coincidences involving three separate sightings of Stephen Nimieri (played more perfectly by Ger Duany than literally anyone else in the history of film could ever possibly hope to), who in the movie is a.k.a. “Tall African Guy”.
Meanwhile, our (tentative) antagonist, Brad Stand (played with immaculate skill by Jude Law), a sales executive at the Huckabees Department Store — which is a sort of eery fictitious Wal-Mart that comes across as slightly more upscale, but which still displays the same signs of corporate menace associated with Wal-Mart itself — also hires the Jaffes in an attempt to derail Albert’s environmental coalition so that a new branch of Huckabees can be built on the surrounding woods and marshlands. Brad is dating the face and voice of Huckabees, Ms. Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts), and on the surface, the two are the picture of a detestably perfect power couple, to be regarded with a distinctly fierce love and loathing by every character in the movie (and anyone who is watching it, for that matter). Finally, there is Mr. Tommy Corn (played by none other than Mark “Boogie Nights” Wahlberg), a handsome and deeply troubled firefighter who is promptly and unceremoniously left by his wife and daughter, who are quite simply fed up with his newfound adoption of Nihilism, precipitated after reading a book by one Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert), a brooding French philosopher who closely resembles a sort of older Carla Bruni.
The thing about I ♥ Huckabees that is so destructive and beautiful is its portrayal of each individual character as being uniquely neurotic in a way that’s….well, universal. Everyone is vain. Whether it’s Albert’s thinly veiled self-righteousness in believing that his work to save the environment is imperative and all important, or Brad’s overt arrogance and air of smug self-satisfaction for being so good looking and charming and lucky and successful (the list goes on). Everyone is insecure. Dawn’s position as commercial model for Huckabees dictates the sort of self-worship that requires a desperate need to be pretty, to feel pretty. And so she never does. Albert is constantly wondering if his life means anything because he doesn’t know if his work means anything (which seemed, to me, a not-so-subtle social commentary of modern society’s oppressive emphasis on professional and academic success as being the only thing that makes one truly successful in life), causing him to feel like a failure. By the same token, Brad exhibits a pathological need to feel successful such that he never feels satisfied with his success. In order to like himself, he needs to know that everyone else likes him — which is, of course, impossible — and so he never does.
The film, then, speaks to broad social problems by developing characters that illustrate them with sublime specificity. Everyone’s constant feeling of being inexplicably and imperially alone leads them to find solace in knowing that that loneliness is in fact common, that it’s shared. The Jaffes support the theory that the universe has meaning because everything and everyone are interconnected. Vauban, on the other hand, insists that nothing truly matters because nothing is all there is, that no one is connected, and that we are all alone. Let’s take a second to acknowledge just how unbearably heavy this film is right off the bat. Here we are in agony, being forced to wrestle with impossibly enigmatic philosophical ideologies in a way that is absolutely unprecedented, and we’re expected to laugh? But then it makes you with exchanges like the following between Vivian and Albert.
V: “Have you ever transcended space and time?”
A: “Yes. No. Uh, time, not space….No, I don’t know what you’re talking about”.
Or ones like that between Dawn and Brad:
D: “There’s glass between us! You can’t deal with my infinite nature, can you?”
B: “That is so not true. Wait, what does that even mean?”
These little snippets of dialogue aren’t all that funny — not in the traditional sense, at least — I mean, yes, in the contemplative, metaphysical, what-is-life, Kafka sense; they are. But by no means do you expect them to be. And yet you can’t help but laugh, because it’s doing the impossible. It’s taking what you never want or try to consider, and making it funny. I ♥ Huckabees is truly special for pushing the entertainment envelope, and forcing you to venture outside your comfort zone by delving into the ubiquitous issues that no one seems to push themselves to consider or talk about. All while slaying you with hugely funny and sardonically insightful quips like: “We’re not in infinity. We’re in the suburbs”.
Bernard and Vivian eventually introduce Albert and Tommy to each other as each other’s “Other” (viz. a sort of companion/sponsor on the quest to see “The Big Picture”), but after Albert is impeached as founder of his coalition by none other than Brad, Tommy uses his pain and suggests that they switch over from the Jaffes’ unfailing optimism to Vauban’s unrelenting pessimism. Caterine insists that “There is no escaping human drama….there is only pain and suffering”. When Tommy questions this, she vengefully begins a romantic relationship with Albert, and the two forsake him. Around the same time, Brad suffers a nervous break, loses his girlfriend, his job and his house to arson (perpetrated by none other than Albert). And so everyone is miserable, in despair, and it would seem that Caterine was right all along….and you are miserable. You empathize uncomfortably with each and every character’s agony. And it is Tommy, in the end, who articulates the film’s ultimate message with piercing honesty and brevity: “How come we only ask ourselves the really big questions when something bad happens?”.
And, if you’ve got the balls to, you ask yourself the very same. This film’s paramount accomplishment is its success in doing what no movie ever really has: it makes you think. Some people don’t like that. In fact, most don’t want to think, and are perfectly happy going about their lives while cultivating a sustained obliviousness to those really big questions, and a deep-seated fear for the implications of asking them. I ♥ Huckabees defies this commitment to indifference, and in so doing defies the norm for today’s film culture. Instead of making a movie that aims to please and anesthetize the masses, the men and women behind this picture created one that consistently stimulates and disturbs them. The climax sees the breaking of everything and everyone, as well as the mending subsequent. Tommy accepts that indeed there is no escape from human drama. Albert, that everyone is connected (even Brad and himself). Dawn, that someone (Tommy) will like her for who she really is. And Brad, that not everyone can.
It’s easy to relate to the main character in any story, because we are intrinsically self-centered, and can understand things only as we perceive them in relation to ourselves. But I ♥ Huckabees won’t let you get off that easy, because every character is central, neurotic. And so you’ve no choice but to relate to each and every one in a way that is just as moving as it is unsettling. This film is not for everyone. It’s not for those devoted to denial, the weak-minded or the faint of heart. It is for those who are able to truly look at themselves, and comprehensively analyze their flaws, while genuinely appreciating their strengths. This isn’t meant to be a simple plot summary. It was written with the intent of reading as an evaluation that is neither pro- nor anti- (or both, who knows?). I ♥ Huckabees exposes the ugly and the gorgeous in us all, and is just that much more powerful for doing it. Achingly, inspiringly and irreversibly upsetting, this film is guaranteed to ruin you in the best way possible….but only if you let it.
And I fucking love it.