Towards New Aesthetics

Besides explaining the main four branches of her philosophy (ethics, politics, epistemology, and metaphysics[1]), Ayn Rand also wrote on the nature of aesthetics, the last, fifth branch:

Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments” (The Romantic Manifesto, 1971, Ch.1, original italics).

In other words, art for Rand is an end in itself, not a means to anything. Art is “a concretization of metaphysics” (ibid.); it has no social or didactic ends. Hence I’ve decided that aesthetics is also an important branch of philosophy for me to review on this blog. It is a philosophy of beauty, what motivates and inspires individuals to reach for Truth and grow more experienced in their “sense of life,” their souls. In my analysis of aesthetic works, I shall concentrate on the inherent metaphysics guiding them. Of course, it needs to be noted that the metaphysics that I select to defend, in this short, contemporary, 21st century purview of movie aesthetics, is my own and not Rand’s. Please, consider first watching Spring (2014), since the following analysis will involve significant plot details.

Spring or, how to fall in love

What deals with emotions more than the modern movies about the young generation? Although the movie Spring is about the young and their culture of drugs, sex, and music, it might surprise you that there is much philosophy involved as well. Some lines of script are fillers, but others are very important. So, to ask again but differently, do you think that the relationship to emotional moments is in the way a person feels, or his or her emotionality? And also in his or her awareness about what’s happening in the present moment?

In this movie, aesthetics is interwoven with everything that surrounds us and makes us human. Some things, such as the thread of young coming out of old or old being dependent on the young for sustenance, is easily ignored in our daily life’s concerns. Other things are more obvious, such as how we fall in love and cannot control our natures, our bodies. Our bodies control us through chemistry. The protagonist of the film, a young American lost in his life of loss and death, a man named Evan, says “maybe that’s chemical but it is also magic,” and this summarizes the integration done throughout the film, by the end becoming complete.

Here, aesthetics, emotionally explored in various scenes through the complementation of old and young, pale and bright, rotten and fresh, ugly and beautiful, nightly and daily, natural and human, dying and living, unbounded and small, foreign and familiar, mysterious and real, traditional and scientific, depicts and simultaneously plays the roles of metaphysics (ontologically expressed) and epistemology. By aesthetics a person chooses what’s liked emotionally and individually, by the belief in what’s beautiful, by metaphysics he or she acts in a specific sequence (logic) and by belief in what’s true and what’s ethically right, and by epistemology he or she acquires knowledge in order to be more self-confident in relation to the events in which he or she takes part.

For example, in Spring Evan chooses Louise as his beloved. He believes in his love to her and asks her this question: “explain it to me [who are you]?” (1:16:30-57 in 1:49:37 version of the movie). When he has lost his emotional love, he still wants to reinforce his belief with knowledge, which has to be integrated through the same belief from fear (or non-love), the motivation coming from and opposing fear. And Louise, at the end of the film, chooses Evan and believes in a better life with him, and she integrates knowledge from her fear of death after he so poetically and truthfully replies to her inquiry, when she asked to “tell [her] more about the finite” (1:43:40-45). Louise was afraid because she doesn’t want to die and doesn’t want to watch anyone die (1:41:00-07), but both the memory of her parents and the surrounding environment (e.g., birds chirping, sun rising, volcano erupting) near her birthplace remind her of her true nature, and this helps integrate herself into the relationship with Evan. This fear to what was unknown in her long life interfered with her love for Evan, her inexperienced love finally rising to expression through her being for the first time in two millennia.

The musical composition of the film is carefully crafted to match the feelings depicted there aesthetically as well as metaphysically. The composer Jimmy LaValle, known for The Album Leaf, especially Window, was also innovative for some tracks of this film. For example, especially noticeable is the “Louise” theme, which, although short, is a very detailed melody, slowly rising on the background toward the front stage, combined with mystical overtones, and becomes very clear and determinate, yet keeping tension through its slow pace, toward its completeness and shier beauty out of the simple, the common, and the carefree, but never losing its mystery, neither below nor above the surface. You won’t sense horror here but you would find curiosity or even wonder. This apparently simple tune is best listened to while driving, or on a street, or in some public place and while looking at what’s happening around, passing you by without touching, and it lifts you up, slows down time, and makes you feel like a kid again, for at least a minute and a half. This is the power of integration.

We notice the harmony between Evan and Louise through this song, the revealing of her nature through their relationship, how she is so careful and untrusting and how she then falls in love, slowly but surely, by the end. She cannot control it, but, with Evan’s belief and religious wonder, she, however much a scientist she thinks of herself, also succumbs to the love through her own conscious belief. As Spinoza would have said, they didn’t have free choice, since their actions were caused naturally, but yet they strived to understand, and this caused them to become entwined in beauty and goodness and truth of the worldly divine.

Basically, a guy couldn’t understand one girl, and so he was afraid of her, but he wanted to understand her, so he could love her. The two emotions are shown as mutually exclusive in the film, but by the end you cannot separate them from each other. Hence we have “non-A is A,” the law of becoming in its unstoppable, glorious form and action. One cannot stop integration when it is fully, consciously desired: it becomes its own being, the relationship of its participants, the involvement in and of the world.

So what is this movie Spring again? Is it a romance, a horror, a science fiction? The movie advertises love as a monster but means exactly the opposite, or reverse, wherein and wherefrom we find love, that upon what love must also be based. There is little of the same horror here, directed away rather than toward it, but as a genre it is a science fiction dealing with the wonder of being human, the best trait a science fiction work can possess. Relationships in this film are at the forefront. Evan cares for his friends, and he is sociable with other people. He is friendly, unattached, and yet he remembers those to whom his self belongs as an end of a line. When the problem with Louise first breaks surface, what does Evan do? He calls his friend Tommy to explain how he feels and to find what he should do, whether he should change his life to stay with Louise even while knowing how it would affect his relationship with his old friend as his old self.

Accepting how the new comes out of the non-new, the old never being rejected but by being accepted supports the new like the branches on the strange hybrid tree in Angelo’s farm. It is no wonder how a younger tree’s branch is placed within the old to make the old new and wonderfully fresh. To integrate is to make free by supporting a center while the periphery stays untouched and independent. This is a rare occurrence to be able to grasp such deep wisdom in a movie as seemingly common as this – a lucky integration, you’d guess. Perhaps it is. I can only wish for more movies like this[2].

The feminine in Spring is a salient mystery and should not be taken lightly, and this reflects the theme of the movie for our next discussion of aesthetics, which is going to be about Whale Rider (2002).

[1] For Objectivist ethics, refer to The Virtue of Selfishness (1964), for politics Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966), for epistemology and metaphysics Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1990), and for aesthetics The Romantic Manifesto (1971). You can find my ethics, politics, epistemology, and metaphysics on this blog under the “New philosophy” section.

[2] Of course, there are also materialists who hate this film.

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