Film Review: Le Diable Probablement (The Devil, Probably)
Brigham #film review
“Do you know when civilization ends? It’s when stupidity is accelerated.”
I think stupidity could easily be replaced by selfishness here, but either way this sentiment rings true in contemporary American society as much as it did in France during 1977. People are so caught up in their prescribed livelihoods that they’re unable to recognize what they’re actually doing. Our young protagonist, Charles, recognizes this fact, but rather than accept his absence of control over the situation, he finds himself in an endless loop of despair and lack of solutions rooted in modern livelihoods being directed towards the attainment of money. His nihilism affirms itself in the worst possible way, as it is applicable to any situation through a repurposed perspective. To be frank, in terms of ethics, it’s the easy way out. As Albert Camus once wrote:
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide” (The Myth of Sisyphus).
Rather than committing to a pragmatic activism through the mitigation of local environmental issues like Michel, Charles disregards the entire problem as meaningless due to the ultimate collective end point of human experience: death. We see the overwhelming damage people have done to the world in the opening sequence, but that leads to a less than satisfactory explanation as to why Charles ends his life in the face of this terror. Everyone has to face this reality, but the lens he has placed on the world has ingrained a constant sense of despair into his life, and his refusal to find solace in any aspect of his life is incredibly damaging to him and the people around him. He ultimately becomes just another tragic image in a world full of them, with the motivating factor being his recognition of the fact that even the life of his therapist is guided by the very thing he resents.
“When you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags” (_Bojack Horseman, _S2E10 Yes And).
Charles is doomed from the start in his pursuit of meaning and its subsequent contentment because he refuses to see the very real goodness in front of him. One cannot be fulfilled in the present moment when they view that moment as a constant lack. The film itself is a commentary on nihilism versus beauty. A society cannot be held as completely hopeless if the work of art we just consumed is so beautiful in itself, even if it did happen to make money. All films are portraits of life, so any direction found within a stream of moving pictures can be understood as a newfound perspective on life.
“If my aim was money and profit, everyone would respect me.” This is Charles’ response to his lack of purpose, and as he begins to read through the standardized, predetermined life of the masses written out in some sort of publication, I cannot help but see a reflection of my generation in the even later stages of hyper-capitalist society. Our thoughts have been largely manipulated, or in extreme cases imprisoned, by mass media, with the only motivating forces in many people’s lives being money or blissful ignorance to the glaring inequalities plaguing our system. The only sane people today are the ones with anxiety and depression. How could you not feel some sort of dread looking into such a dim future? In a world that is more militarized, has greater wealth discrepancies, and is closer to environmental collapse than ever before, it’s no wonder that the number of suicides is equally as unprecedented.
But Camus ultimately found in his musings that suicide is simply a cessation of life, and not a solution to the problem of absurdity. Denying the meaninglessness of death is just as pointless as killing yourself since you are simply avoiding the confrontation altogether. Death is alternatively the source of meaning, since the actions taken within a finite existence have more innate value than an eternal one.
Charles removed the possibility of his survival when he put his agency in the hands of another, and before he dies we see he isn’t ready; he has more to say, as everyone does when they are alive. Charles is haunted because the word value virtually no longer exists without a relationship to currency. We can’t have blind hope that the future we will soon inhabit can be a reality void of money, but we also can’t be consumed by despair that it is an impossibility. All we can do is act within our own capacities, generating meaning and genuine change within the spheres of life we find ourselves in.
We are losing our humanity at the hands of the people society has placed on pedestals for what reason? The number in their bank account? Any objective lens that has been placed on people to place us in a hierarchy is inherently flawed in its attempt, especially when the history tied to that value plays a bigger role than an actor in the present day. It is a shame that so many people cannot come to terms with the fact their life has been reduced to a number, their existence as a statistic.
“I don’t wanna be a slave or a specialist,” Charles laments as he sits in his leather chair. The therapist diagnoses Charles with depression, further standardizing and dehumanizing the man he is trying to provide care for. So much modern therapy and psychological medicine is treated as a mechanic for your heart and mind. Any anxieties or existential concerns must be muted out by drugs to keep everyone in accordance with the ultimate goal of productivity. We work minimum wage jobs that have higher demand, both mentally and physically, than the people making millions. Meanwhile, the AI we are developing finds itself exploring the world of art and poetry. Where the FUCK did we go wrong?
We strive to achieve or perceive something beautiful, but we are simultaneously discouraged to truly explore our own psyches, so many people are left to find beauty in the realm of greed and indulgence. Whether that be the repetitive nature of a bus door opening and closing, discussing the nature of religion in an empty church, or sitting by the water listening to an aspiring flute player, those who still possess some sense of sanity will always desire the beautiful. In a world increasingly stripped of its humanity, we must cling on to the little we have left inside of us. The only way we feel anything is by being alive to do so.
If life is meaningless, then death is senseless…
and money is The Devil, Probably.