About Schmidt is a movie directed by Alexander Payne and was released in 2002 starring Jack Nicholson. As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the movie, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers below.
In the movie, Nicholson plays a character named Warren Schmidt, who just so happens to be sitting at his desk watching the clock tick closer and closer to 5pm on his last day at the office before his retirement. Up until that point in his career, his life could be summed up as the perfect textbook definition of success. That is, he had a good job, a family, a house, and more. That night at the retirement celebration, one of his colleagues says the following about Schmidt's career and retirement:
"Anyway, I know something about retirement. And what I want to say to you out loud, Warren, so all these young hotshots can hear is that all those gifts over there don't mean a goddamn thing. And this dinner doesn't mean a goddamn thing. And the social security and pension don't mean a goddamn thing. None of these superficialities mean a goddamn thing. What means something... What really means something, Warren, is the knowledge that you devoted your life to something meaningful. To being productive and working for a fine company. Hell, one of the top-rated insurance carriers in the nation. To raising a fine family, to building a fine home, to being respected by your community, to having wonderful, lasting friendships. At the end of his career, if a man can look back, and say, 'I did it. I did my job.' then he can retire in glory, and enjoy riches far beyond the monetary kind. So, all you young people here, take a good look at a very rich man."
After the ceremony the next day, Schmidt is found sitting at his desk at home wondering what to do. After all, when you have lived the very definition of a successful life, what more is there to accomplish? An advertisement on TV to sponsor poor children in Africa catches his eye. So he does just that, and sponsors a six-year-old orphaned boy living in Tanzania named Ndugu. Regrettably, Schmidt's life then takes a dire turn for the worst when his wife of 42 years dies suddenly and without notice. The travesties that befall Schmidt afterwards spawn a series of letters to Ndugu which naturally go without response (at least until the end of the film). Essentially, Schmidt reaches an endlife crisis... as opposed to the better known midlife crisis.
This sends Schmidt on a soul-searching adventure, visiting all the places he hasn't been to in many years... e.g. his old home (now a tire shop), a museum, and more. In short, without going into detail, Schmidt finds himself, realizing that you must appreciate what you have while you still have it. However, ironically, at the end of the day, this does not necessarily solve his endlife crisis, as he still goes home to an empty house with nothing to live for. He writes to Ndugu stating,
"Relatively soon, I will die. Maybe in 20 years, maybe tomorrow, it doesn't matter. Once I am dead and everyone who knew me dies too, it will be as though I never existed. What difference has my life made to anyone. None that I can think of. None at all."
Then a letter appears in the mail from Ndugu, written by Sister Nadine Gautier who is helping to care for the child. The letter reads:
Ndugu and I want you to know that he receives all of your letters. He hopes that you are happy in your life, and healthy. He thinks of you everyday and he wants very much your happiness. Ndugu is only 6 years old and cannot read or write, but he has made for you a painting. He hopes that you will like his painting.
This is how the movie ends. Quite beautifully, but still very solemn. Was Schmidt's endlife crisis resolved? Clearly having a textbook definition successful and meaningful life didn't help him to avoid this crisis. One would assume this picture and Ndugu's letter helped to alleviate the loneliness temporarily... but there is always tomorrow when the novelty of the letter wears off and the empty house full of memories becomes soul-crushing.
Overall, watching the movie was a bit surreal. There are many scenes where it feels as if you are in the character's shoes watching other people's lives go by and you are forced to partake in events that you don't necessarily want to partake in... forced to watch as the pointlessness of it all unfolds... forced to watch as the clock ticks closer and closer to the end of life.
We rate the movie as follows:
Overall - 8
Meaning of Life Relevance - 7
Uniqueness – 7
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