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THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN PROVIDES THE ANSWER


Sill from The Incredible Shrinking Man © Universal Pictures

A good book or film will speak to me differently at different points in my life. My ever-growing experience and associations continually supply new layers of meaning. That's why, from time to time, I love to re-watch or re-read favorite films and books. While they provide a familiar environment in which to relax my mind, they always have surprises in store for me, spawning new connections and even the occasional epiphany.

When I was a little girl, every Saturday morning, I would peel off the covers, climb out of bed and run down the hall to the tv room as my parents still slept. In the quiet of the house, I'd hear the distinctive click of the power nob and I'd wait for the screen to come alive like a time-lapsed bloom. On lucky days, I'd be treated to a Shirley Temple feature. On not-quite-so-lucky days, it would be an old scifi flick.

Sill from The Incredible Shrinking Man © Universal Pictures

Of those, the one I remember best is the The Incredible Shrinking Man. What starts off as your typical 50's scifi—with a man crossing a mysterious mist that causes him to slowly shrink—ends in a haunting soliloquy on the meaning of existence.

As a girl, I cared more about the monster-sized house cat and nightmare-inducing spider (clearly a relative of Tolkien's Shelob) who nearly make the hero their dinner than the existential implications. Still, even my young self couldn't help but be moved by the film's last scene.

Sill from The Incredible Shrinking Man © Universal Pictures

The hero is now so small he can fit through the mesh of his house's vent to the garden. As he walks out into the overwhelmingly wide world, he contemplates his place in it:

"I was continuing to shrink, to become... what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close - the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet - like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God's silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man's own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends in man's conception, not nature's. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!"

Sill from The Incredible Shrinking Man © Universal Pictures

When I was small, I took this to mean that even the smallest and seemingly insignificant being's life has meaning. But I think there's more to it. Now that I have a few more decades under my belt, I see that we give our lives meaning through the very act of living them. It's the hero's very existence (small or otherwise) that is meaningful.

In other words: YOU = MEANING.

Joseph Campbell, my wisdom go-to, put it more eloquently:

"Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”

To the Eternal Question—What is the meaning of life?—YOU ARE THE ANSWER.

Saturday mornings will never be the same.

#TheIncredibleShrinkingMan #scifi #JosephCampbell

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© 2016 Tora Chung

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