8. The Invention of Hope

Up to the point where the couple reaches his parent’s/janitor’s house, the movie has strayed significantly from the book — for the better, in my opinion. Upon arrival, we get a scene close to a straight up adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel, in fact more so than any other in the movie. That could give you a false sense of security that the family visit will play out much like it did in the book — and that assumption would prove wildly wrong. But I won’t get ahead of myself.

The scene is fairly simple — Jake shows his girlfriend the farm. We had already heard that she too had grown up on a farm, but watching the scene, you get the sense that neither character really believes that. When Jake says how brutal life is on a farm and says “you should know this” it comes off more like acting advice — this is something to internalize — rather than a reinforcement.

There’s a stagy, obligatory nature to the entire scene, as if Jake is doing what he is expected to do, not what he really wants. We get some bland comments about sheep and what it must be like to just stand around huddled in the cold. We see dead lambs on the ground and Jake nervously passes it off as the most normal thing in the world on a farm for animals to be frozen solid, awaiting their cremation in the spring thaw.

And then we get the dreaded pigs eaten alive by maggots story. The story flashes us forward twice, first to a dinner they will soon eat, supposedly with all the food coming from the farm and the animal eaten is a pig. The book indicates that this awful pig incident had happened quite some time ago, but the movie doesn’t make it so explicit — so it’s vaguely possible that they all sit down to eat maggot infested pork. Yum! The second flash forward is to the film’s conclusion and the talking pig escorting the janitor to his death.

It’s fitting that the young woman (it doesn’t feel right calling her the girlfriend, so I’ll try to stop) now has an internal monologue about death. Here’s what she says:

Everything has to die. That’s the truth. One likes to think there is always hope. That you can live above death. And it’s a uniquely human fantasy that things will get better, born perhaps of the uniquely human understanding that things will not. There is no way to know for certain. But I suspect humans are the only animals that know of the inevitability of their own deaths.

At this point the movie cuts to the janitor walking the school hallway, school out of session. The monologue continues:

Other animals live in the present. Humans cannot, so they invented hope.

This little speech reminded me of something Yuval Noah Harari said in a recent TED talk about what distinguishes humans from other animals:

We humans control the world because we live in a dual reality. All other animals live in an objective reality. Their reality consists of objective entities, like rivers and trees and lions and elephants. We humans, we also live in an objective reality. In our world, too, there are rivers and trees and lions and elephants. But over the centuries, we have constructed on top of this objective reality a second layer of fictional reality, a reality made of fictional entities, like nations, like gods, like money, like corporations. And what is amazing is that as history unfolded, this fictional reality became more and more powerful so that today, the most powerful forces in the world are these fictional entities. Today, the very survival of rivers and trees and lions and elephants depends on the decisions and wishes of fictional entities, like the United States, like Google, like the World Bank — entities that exist only in our own imagination.

Every act of human imagination, whether creating a business or writing a novel or simply having a daydream while conducting a repetitive manual labor job reinforces this singular truth about humanity. We are story telling — fictional story telling — creatures. It allows us to be something more than pigs being eaten alive by maggots, but it also allows us to transform those pigs into magical creatures that give us greater understanding of our own mortality.

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