San Junipero & All Things Meaningless
Updated: Sep 26, 2017
A few thoughts on the Emmy's, Black Mirror, and the brutality of eternal happiness.
A few nights ago, I flipped over to watch the Emmy's. Maybe it was because Colbert was hosting or maybe I felt I owed the Emmy Foundation my viewership since they awarded one of my films the most prestigious award I have won to date, but either way I tuned it.
The jokes were great and I recognized almost every nominated show, except for one. All night, an episode of Black Mirro (a twilight zone anthology series based around the rise of technology) kept getting attention. When it won the award for Best Writing, I knew I had to check it out.
The next night, my wife and I sat down and pulled up "San Junipero". Yet as I watched, I began to ask myself, "Is this really the single best written episode of television over the past year?". I was finding that hard to believe.
Yet as I watched, I began to ask myself, "Is this really the single best written episode of television over the past year?". I was finding that hard to believe.
As the show finished, it became clear to me why it won the award for best written episode. It pushed an agenda louder and more prominently than Fox News pushes Trump. But I get it. These Emmy voters have thousands upon thousands of episodes to watch and at a certain point, a great written episode is a great written episode. So at the end of judging when five shows all are tied with a score of 9.5/10, they're going to go for the one that pushes the agenda they believe in. I get it, but I found it heavy handed and attempted to write it off.
That should be the end of the story, but it's not. (Spoilers to follow. There was your warning.)
I went to bed that night unable to fall asleep. I was thinking about it. The next day I woke up and was thinking about it. And what aspect exactly was I thinking about? Was it the lesbian romance that the main character chose to pursue instead of a possible future with her husband of 49 years? (Yes, that really happens.) While it would be easy to ponder on that, it honestly didn't stick with me or bother me at all. That was the part that made me want to write it off, but another theme wouldn't let go of me: the show's depiction of heaven.
In the episode, when you die you have the option to have your consciousness uploaded to the cloud where you can live forever in any decade you want with anything you want. And that's fate of the main characters in the show: the final shots are of them riding off, laughing and living it up, speeding away in a convertible to the song "Heaven is a Place on Earth". Everything on the screen screamed OPTIMISM, HAPPINESS, FULFILLMENT... yet I felt hollow inside.
No, not because they were lesbians because I would have felt the exact same way if it was a heterosexual relationship and they two people were literal saints. The hollowness came from thinking about forever... like forever forever.
I grew up in a Christian home. I have heard about heaven ever since I could remember. At first I thought it would be like we were all angels, floating around nodding to each other and saying "Peace Be With You". Then somewhere along the way I was told that heaven was like everything you ever wanted all the time, anytime you wanted it, with everyone you love with you there. That sounded nice and for decades I believed it, no question.
But I guess I'm just in the questioning mood.
"San Junipero" showed me that heaven with everything you ever want, anytime you want it, with your loved ones forever... and no fulfillment. You'd get bored, then you would feel useless, leading to melancholy and depression. Then you'd end up like the folks at The Quagmire. (Seriously you should have watched the show by now.)
So what would be a suitable eternity? Maybe you could fix the boredom issue by always having something new. That might help for oh, twenty-thousand years or so but it would wear off eventually. And even if you could completely fix boredom, I think the larger, more pressing issue is the thought of not having any existence of consequence.
On earth, I've seen people who have everything - Michael Jordan, Britney Spears, Tiger Woods - I don't envy them. Then I have seen people of purpose - Christine Caine, Barack Obama, Franklin Graham - they have something more appealing. (Yes, I picked devisive names because I'm just in one of those moods.)
Bear with this next tangent I promise it relates.
There's this Twilight Zone episode. A guy is robbing a bank, gets shot and blacks out. When he comes to he's in this beautiful world and he looks around confused. Before he can utter "where am I?", a Helper shows up. The Helper says, "What can I get for you?". So the man tests him by asking for things. Sure enough, the Helper magically fulfills every request.
Then one day the man, after getting everything else, says he wants the Helper's house and all his stuff. The Helper smiles and gladly hands it over. The man then demands that he take him gambling, which the helper does as well. The man then proceeds to win every casino game he plays for six months.
Eventually, he becomes distraught. The Helper shows up eager to assist, "What can I do for you?". The man yells, "I don't want to keep winning!" The Helper asks "Then how often do you want to lose and we'll make it happen". Exasperated, the man proclaims "What kind of heaven is this? I'm miserable!".
The Helper responds, "Who said this was heaven? This is hell."
Or how about Ecclesiastes? Have you ever read that book of the Bible? It's written by a man who literally had everything he ever wanted and you can see right into his mind in his writings: Ecclesiastes 1:1 “'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'”
Ecclesiastes 1:1 “'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'”
And King Solomon doesn't stop there. He goes on and on lamenting the torture of having everything he ever wanted. If he's miserable dealing with that in one lifetime, why would the fate of the girls in "San Junipero" be any different? Especially forever?
That sounds more like hell than heaven to me.
So I've come to the conclusion that I don't want eternal happiness, not solely, not forever. I realize that what I am seeking, what I hope for after I die, is instead - eternal purpose.
Near the end of the episode, one of the girls talks about how she believes her husband is in the ground, in nothingness, and there is no spiritual heaven waiting on her either. I'm sure she believed that. She might have been 99% sure, but she couldn't know 100% because none of us can. We don't know, can't know, and aren't meant to know what lies after death...
But I'll close with this:
I'd rather have a 1% chance of living with eternal purpose, worshipping and serving the creator of the universe who is literally love himself, than have a 100% chance of living in a land of eternal happiness with only everything I ever wanted.