So I recently saw Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus and was quite baffled and, to be honest, a little dissatisfied with the ending. The movie is visually stunning and philosophically challenging in some ways but the rather ambiguous ending made me think about the way the entire movie is structured, focus on particular scenes and try and find some ulterior motives behind some of the seemingly innocent symbols. The entire movie which revolves around three character stories who undergo organ transplants and face conflicts has the underlying theme of life and identity. The fact that every character who undergoes an organ transplant faces conflicts regarding their identity and purpose of existence is so well portrayed that you as a viewer can’t help but introspect and find meaning and maybe a reflection in this movie. The title of the movie refers to The Theseus Paradox
If Theseus’s ship is damaged and the damaged parts are replaced by new parts is it still the same ship?
If the discarded parts are used to build an entirely new ship then which of the two is the actual Ship of Theseus?
In all three stories the characters reach a stage of conflict. Is creativity nature or nurture? Is it fair to kill a being to save another, no matter how small or insignificant the being might be? Is it fair to ditch an ideology that you’ve been following and preaching your entire life? What really is our greatest motivation, money or humanity? Can money buy happiness and/or justice?
I think questions are what pave the path to enlightenment. Does quest for truth always begin with conflict? Seems so. And if so, should this conflict always be a Heart vs Mind conflict?
The ending of the movie shows a video of a man walking through a cave with a flashlight. As I said, it’s an ambiguous ending. I believe the ending might be a reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Clave. The story of the clave is about a group of individuals who have been imprisoned, since their birth, in a cave and tied with chains in such a way that they cannot view themselves or their surroundings but only the blank wall they face. Behind them is a fire by a low wall. People walk into the clave behind the wall carrying puppets in such a way that shadows are cast on the blank wall thanks to the fire, but only of the puppets that they carry. As these shadows are the only thing the prisoners ever see, that is the only idea they have about reality. If a prisoner is freed and taken out into the world, he’ll reach a state of extreme conflict as to what reality actually is. Eventually he’ll get adjusted to the light, life and colours of the actual reality and taking pity on the imprisoners would want to free them. However, upon entering the cave he is blinded by the darkness just as he was by the light when he was taken out of it. The prisoners upon hearing of the plight of the freed man who is now incapable of seeing ‘reality’ (the dancing shadows of the cave) would develop a fear of the outer world and would never want to leave the cave.
However, when the man walks into cave with a flashlight, the problem of being blinded is solved and the other prisoners are introduced to a new reality sans the conflict. This tool, technology, bridges the gap between the actual reality and our one dimensional perspective of it. One of the best scenes in the film is of the blind photographer using a device that reads out instructions to her so she can use the device for editing her photographs with great ease. Very few people know that this idea is actually an in-film invention and one that hasn’t been implemented yet.
Is technology our way to enlightenment? Is enlightenment Googleable? Will we, as the Posthuman theory states, build an ultra intelligent machine, one that surpasses all our intellectual abilities and lead us all out of the dark cave we are imprisoned in? A machine , after all, is built with a purpose. It’s identity is defined in a few technical terms. It leads a simple existence and will never face the Mind vs Heart conflict. What kind of enlightenment will that be then?