As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the film, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers ahead.
Albert, who is played by Jason Schwartzman, ends up at a restaurant that requires a suit coat, which he, of course, forgot to bring. So, he borrows one, and it just so happens that inside the front pocket was a business card for an "existential detective," named Vivian Jaffe (played by Lily Tomlin). Why is Albert looking for an existential detective? Well, so that they can investigate his weird coincidence of bumping into a tall African man from Sudan on several occasions, which he feels must have some importance. It doesn't matter that we probably run into many people on a daily basis and never give them a second look, and that someone different, like a very tall person from the Sudan, may stand out. So, there must be meaning behind it.
The existential duo, Vivian and her co-worker/lover, Bernard (played by Dustin Hoffman), tells Albert exactly what he wants to hear. Everything is connected, everything has meaning. But is it really the coincidence he wants to investigate, or something else? Like a lack of direction, a lack of meaning in life? There is no difference between you and I, or the rocks, or the corporations, or anything else in the world. We are all one, and as a result, as per Bernard, Everything you could ever want or be, you already have and are.
Shortly thereafter, we're introduced to Tommy Corn (played by Mark Wahlberg). Tommy is undergoing a breakup because his wife is sick and tired of him questioning everything. She just wants to live life, and Tommy is struggling to find meaning after he read a book by the fictional nihilist Caterine Vauban. According to Tommy, ...if this world is temporary. Identity is an illusion. Then everything is meaningless and it doesn't matter if you use petroleum (he was on a kick about how using petroleum was wrong on so many levels, along with third world slave labor, so on and so forth.). Here Bernard retorts, everything is connected and everything matters. Both philosophies agreeing that the ego is an illusion, however both come to opposite conclusions.
Caterine Vauban, in contrast to Vivian/Bernard is a nihilist, and believes that the universal truth is one of meaninglessness–randomness, suffering, cruelty ... you get the picture.
Eventually Albert is paired with Tommy, the two explore the path of nihilism together, and after hitting each other in the face with a tetherball a few times too many, everything becomes clear. According to Albert, It's like I'm a rock or a dish of mold. I'm whatever else is around. So, I'm free to just exist. Tommy replies, This is the answer. We just have to be this all day, every day. Eventually Caterine chimes in that they cannot stay in the state of nothingness all day, every day, for eventually they would both be pulled back into the human drama, the human state of suffering. Or better yet, in her words, C'est exactement ça. An absurd theatrical we must play out, back and forth, from pure being to human suffering … existence is a cruel joke that entices in a form of desire. To prove her point, she sleeps with Albert, and poor Tommy is left all alone. That is, that although both found a perfect state of being, both quickly opted back into the human drama.
It should be noted, we skipped over a lot of parts here, as again, this blog focuses more so on the parts of movie which explore the meaning of life (or lack thereof), rather than providing a complete overview of the film. With that said, the characters played by Jude Law (Brad) and Naomi Watts (Dawn, the face, body, and voice of Huckabees) also get pulled into the whole existential detective services thing as well. Albert burns Brad's jet skis (and accidently burns down his house) as payback for taking over his environmental collation (which he built). Ironically, Brad would lose out on becoming part of the corporation which he worked so hard to build after an existential meltdown. So, we end up with quotes like the following from the movie, There are unique moments when two people share the deep sorrow of existence. Interestingly, the jet skis were made by the real company called Kawasaki. This is a common surname in Japan (also a city), but the word kawasaki is also a reference to an inflammatory illness.
To cut a long story short, Vivian, Bernard, and Caterine were working together all along (though they pretended to be enemies). The point of their endeavor was to show those they were working with both extremes and help them to land somewhere in the middle, which Albert realizes and points out in the end. Or rather, Albert realizes that interconnectedness is definitely real, nothing is special, and everything we do grows from the manure of human trouble. We bring our own chains.
Overall, as with a lot of absurdist films, though we're a big fan of the genre, we felt the humor was off, and therefore really disliked the movie despite its high praise. It takes a certain knack to really get humor right in the world of absurdism. With that said, our rating is:
Overall - 3
Meaning of Life Relevance - 7
Uniqueness – 5
Did you see the film? What did we miss? Comment below and let us know.