I just finished the book. I bought it for a few reasons. Most importantly I was certain I'd enjoy it (I did), I also wanted to read some good American fiction because I think lack of awareness of American authors is a weird cultural blind spot in the circles I move in, and finally I wanted to find out if the apparent deepness of the film was intentional and if it was, what it was.
The movie is a brilliant adaptation, probably the best I've ever seen. It not only manages to stay incredibly true to the spirit of the book, but uses the different medium to flesh it out in various ways. Otherwise, what was the point?
- The idea that all our fine ideas are so closely tied to the sloppy, gross bundle of meat that are our bodies is very unsettling (and I'm not even talking about the fact that the ideas come from the same sloppy, gross slab of meat).
- Given all our fine thoughts it's very unfair that it can all be torn away in such a crude, physical way, which is usually so very far beyond our control. And the bits that we do control can so easily conspire against us to give horrible results despite our very best efforts.
- Given all the uncertainty and unfairness it's especially crucial not to be careless. Everything we do is a moral choice and is important and we need to be careful, humble and respect the wisdom of past generations who built everything that we were born into. Things often considered naive and quaint, like respecting your elders and telling the truth in a simple, blunt way (and owning up to the consequences).
- Given all the injustice and pointless suffering in the world it's natural to cling to some form of belief in karma, and when we discover that this is not, in fact, the way the world works it's easy to fall into despair.
All of this is very fine and it can be easy to be conned into forgetting that things are not actually getting worse. Depressingly relentless horror stories in the news shouldn't distract from the fact that people are much less likely to die violent deaths than they ever have been, and the rights and dignity of more people are respected now.
He's right not to sugar coat how bad life can be, and that we shouldn't fall for comforting myths about death, but he's wrong to despair, people have been battling these things and they've been making inroads. His vision should be seen as a call to action, not an excuse for giving up.