Most recently, I’ve been scouring Netflix for something that sparks my interest. Law & Order SVU has perhaps made me a tad bit too paranoid and my fixation on romance flicks has gotten out of hand. So, I’ve focused my attention to oddball indie films. While the few that I’ve come to love (English Teacher, Big Words, Medicine for Melancholy) present easy-to-follow narratives, the one that I’ve been scrolling pass for some weeks now–Mr. Nobody–has sparked within me a strange self-reflection.
Now, before you go pushing play on the film, I want to argue that on the surface it is quite strange. It’s characterized as a Sci-Fi/Drama and goes on for two hours, leading you nowhere fast. The main character, Nemo Nobody, evolves in and out different renditions of himself, which are narrated by his older self who is turning 118 years old. It’s quite trippy, and there’s not much of a point to it if you’re not into waxing poetics. However, something within in the film sparked a chord that has pushed me to reflect on my now three months in New York, my proclamation of weekly semi-mid-life crises and the evolution of the woman that I’ve always wished to become.
In one of Nemo’s selves, he states that animals are born and live their lives with an innate fear to survive; and he questions why humans have an innate fear of who we might become. And as I screamed, Yaaaaasss Nemo, I let the film progress on, allowing myself to subconsciously seek an answer to the fear of becoming.
We all experience it. Perhaps, from childhood to our current selves. I once wanted to be a pediatrician until I realized that I didn’t like doctors and breaking bad news to parents of sick kids was not my type of party. For a brief period I wanted to be a backup dancer in videos–the trajectory would involve me going to Juilliard and trying out for videos. Promise me you’ll forget that reflection after you read it. There was a time in kindergarten that I told my mom I was going to Harvard, to study what, I don’t know, but it was what I had hoped to become. And now, fast forward, none of those things have come to be, and the reality is that I’m still becoming, perhaps in a way that causes me to be more fearful than hopeful.
The concept of becoming, although extraordinarily personal and inherent, is something I constantly witness while experiencing New York City. It goes without saying that if and when you want to make something of yourself, your life, your career, you come to New York. You neglect sleep. You fake being friends. You don’t eat. You spend more money than you have. Everyday is a competition with people you don’t know. You hang your leather bomber jacket off your shoulders. You wear trainers with dresses or slacks. You dress cool and hang out on certain blocks to be photographed. You stand outside of Lincoln Center during New York Fashion Week in hopes that someone notices your style. Your drink liters of coffee. You don’t say excuse me. You don’t smile. And above all you don’t live. You survive.
And, so, perhaps there is some fluidity in Nemo’s consideration of the innate fear to survive and innate fear of who we might become. Perhaps we behave similarly to animals, then, in this cliché jungle of a city. And perhaps, dare I say, that the embodied fear of becoming, and that dreamed-up person of who we might become, isn’t real. We are all Nobodies attempting to become a somebody that doesn’t exist.
Throughout the film, Nemo’s future pans out differently based on choices that he makes, and those choices are based on one very specific choice he has to make when he is 9 years old–living with his mom or staying with his dad after they decide to divorce. What happens is that Nemo’s life, like ours, is a canvas that evolves into a never-ending saga. It allows us to remember, but never forget, but never really allows us to remember or see what we’ve dreamed up because it is still waiting to be drawn. Nemo asks, how can we remember the past, but can’t remember the future. And as the film progresses, it is because the future is predicted, but never truly becomes what Nemo feared all along, but one in which he simply lived. While we spend our time embedded in our fear of surviving and becoming, perhaps we’re missing out on the courage to just be.