A few days ago, lazily watching TV, I came across the movie Papillon and I appreciated it. There’s a scene that struck me and I didn’t remember. The main character, locked in isolation, falls asleep and dreams of being in an uncultivated field with judge and jury in the distance who accuse him of having “wasted his life” and his answer is a whisper “guilty… guilty…”. It seemed to me an emotionally intense scene and I asked myself: what does it mean to “waste one’s own life”? Culturally there are goals, almost obliged, that we feel we must achieve so as not to feel “out of place” or incomplete. Find a job that makes us make good money, so that we can support a family, get married and have children, have a successful career. Yet, we see so many examples, close or far, of those who have followed perfectly all the cultural dictates, and yet…
I thought that the accusation that those judges make to our protagonist was for other reasons, like they had delegated their lives to others. Constantly waiting for the right moment that never comes, a greater (material) security, be chosen and never choose as De André said. Living your life without having the courage to say certain no, or certain yes, focusing on your own feelings.
And I think of children and their being scientists, investigators, researchers. They never stand still, for them the right moment is linked to a feeling and not to the useful, their spontaneity is unsettling. I do not believe those who say that children are in the throes of impulses or un-regulated and that it is the adult who must contain/regulate them. On the contrary, just after disappointing relationships with the adult who does not understand/see their internal reality, there is the risk that that little great researcher will hide and become frightened or even lose themselves, to say, once they grow up, I’ve never been curious and that that inner world made of affections, of “gut feelings” is not really important.
In the movie, our protagonist knows he is guilty but he is not depressed, he does not ally himself with the jailers, with the culture or with those who want to teach him to live. He knows that the truth of his life is beyond that cliff and tries to escape from being a rational adult, who imprisons the child. He jumps from the cliff with the certainty that he will make it, while his friend remains there, accepts his condemnation and becomes his own jailer, perhaps not believing that he can find that little researcher anymore or that it ever existed.
While Papillon, free in the waves and towards freedom, shouts that he is still alive “in their face”. He turns to his jailers, but when I saw that scene, I thought he was a man yelling at anyone or anything that would stop him from actually being himself, if he believed that we were only made of what we’re told, advised, taught or imposed.
Another film comes to mind, more recent, where an American boy, fed up with the social and family pressure, decides to abandon everything and everyone to live free in the wild. “Into the wild” indeed, but his rebellion does not go as he would like. His rebellion seems to be blind, because he thinks to be free by going away physically, rejecting everything, even valid relationships, without thinking he has to change himself.
So what’s the difference between the two?
Papillon has that dream, which puts him in crisis, feels that the blame is also on him and tries to get out of it. He does not reject the human relationship by walking away from society as an ascetic, as it happens in Into the wild. He keeps his inner world and there he finds the courage to leave.
So I think that that movie, Papillon, tells us about something that was lost and that it’s vital to find again. As if each of us had a palette of colours to paint our own world but that, as a result of deep disappointments, more or less visible, these colours dry out convincing us that what we had before had never existed. And then you find yourself unfairly in prison, like Papillon. But he knows he’s responsible for something, he knows he played an active part in that conviction. He rebels as he can, like a child who knows he had those colours.
So might that leap, towards freedom, be the adolescent who doesn’t agree on becoming a rational adult? They want to hold on to a deep dimension with which we are all born.
Because, after all, what are we without that?
Thanks to Chiara Fanasca for the translation of this article