Hopeful or depressing, depending on your own philosophy. Personally, I found "L'Avenir" hopeful. If, after 50+ years, my life radically changes and I'm able to maintain my identity and purpose without completely losing my shit, I'll count that as a win.
While watching this film, I couldn't help but think of episode 4.14 of "Gilmore Girls" when Paris and Janet have this exchange:
Janet: You drove your own boyfriend away, so you hate that anyone else has one.
Paris: Oh please.
Janet: Yeah, why don't you go sit all alone in your room so you can start getting used to how the rest of your life's gonna be.
Paris: I'm not alone.
Janet: Oh, really? Who do you have besides your poster of Noam Chomsky?
In "L'Avenir," I picture Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) as a French, grown up Paris (sans humorous undertones), all alone aside from her poster of
Noam Chomsky Solzhenitsyn. Oh, and fun fact... Paris also makes this comment about Solzhenitsyn in 6.11:
Paris: You think Solzhenitsyn could have written "One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich" on a yoga retreat?
So if you think I'm totally off base, fuck you because I have deeply researched this theory and I know what I'm talking about.
Best time to watch:
When you want a reminder of a) how much you miss your college philosophy classes and b) how quickly you've forgotten everything you learned in the 6 years since graduation.
I used to know a guy in college who was basically an uglier, more condescending version of Fabien (Roman Kolinka). He once told me that I was smart, but not as smart as him and then played "When the Stars Go Blue" for me on his guitar. I should have told him to fuck off forever, but instead I'm pretty sure I let him wax rhapsodic about his love of Kant while I told him how smart I thought he was. College Lindsay was hysterically stupid/pathetic.
Worst time to watch:
When you're not in the mood to feel stupid. I took about 7 pages of notes while watching "L'Avenir" and here's a list of some of the things I had to Google after I finished watching:
- "The Radical Loser"
- Hannah Arendt's first husband
- "Starry sky above and moral law within" (that's a Kant reference, you dumb bitch...ugly Fabien would not be impressed)
- The Obsolescence of Man
- Kirostami film with Juliette Binoche (I'm embarrassed to admit I couldn't think of Certified Copy, a film I love and recently watched - wtf)
- "The World As Will and Idea"
- Rousseau's novel (I didn't know that he wrote one)
- Chateaubriand (never heard of him)
The better your understanding of the philosophical concepts mentioned, the more you'll like this film.
Why you should watch:
For Isabelle Huppert. She's my favorite living actress, bar none (and no, please don't give me any shit about how Juliette Binoche is better - you are wrong).
For a brilliant script that successfully weaves in many philosophical concepts without isolating viewers who might not be familiar with them. This is no easy feat, and Hansen-Løve does it flawlessly.
Where to watch:
I couldn't find this streaming anywhere, but you can rent it on DVD from Netflix.
Nathalie is a 50-something-year-old philosophy teacher living in Paris with her husband Heinz (André Marcon) and two older children, Chloe and Johann (Sarah Le Picard and Solal Forte). Her life is pretty stable/predictable until one day, it isn't. Her husband of twenty-five years leaves her for another woman; her mom (Edith Scob) dies; her protégé basically tells her she's a fucking fraud for living a life where actions aren't compatible with thought; her textbook and essays aren't flashy/successful enough to warrant a reprint. Her career, marriage, family, and intellectual influence fade away until she's left with nothing but herself, her thoughts, and her dead mother's cat, Pandora.
(But then she gives Pandora away because she is a monster and I guess wants to deprive herself of cats, one of life's greatest pleasures).
I loved this movie, but struggled with it for several days before I felt prepared to write anything. It asks many questions that I have no idea how to answer. Here's a few of them:
- If you deeply believe in something but live your life in a way that is antithetical to (or at least, not fully compatible with) that belief, are you a Holden Caulfield phony? How far to you have to go to achieve authenticity?
- Is intellectual fulfillment ever enough for happiness/wholeness?
- Is complete freedom liberating or terrifying?
I watched this movie after episode 6.5 of Girls and couldn't help but think of Loreen, high on weed gummies, when I watched the final scene of Nathalie and her grandchild:
Every time I look at your baby I will see my own death.
I laughed at this line in Girls because stoned insights are funny (especially when you are also stoned - pro tip) and shortly after delivering it, Loreen pukes all over the table. But in "L'Avenir," the sentiment holds true but takes a different tone. What would it feel like to be a middle-aged woman, stripped of all semblance of identity sans mental faculties? What if everything you thought you knew about your life and the way people perceive you was false? What if the things you took pride and comfort in were stripped away? As your time on Earth dwindles and people continue to disappoint you, how do you keep on keeping on? How do you find joy in your daughter's new baby instead of simply seeing your own death every time you look at him?
I don't really have any of the answers (and if you thought I did, lol), but I can try to explain why I finished this film and felt pretty okay about growing older.
The question "L'Avenir" asks about authenticity is one I struggle with constantly. Here are some things that I care most about in this world:
- Running/spending time outside
- Watching and writing about films
- Gender equality
But what did I spend 9 hours on today? Writing ad copy for a company that makes matching doll and child outfits. Am I passionate about this? Fuck no. But is my job helping me pay off my student loans? Fuck yes. Am I a phony because I spend most of my time on something that means nothing to me? I don't think so.
One of the shittiest parts of getting older is having less time to spend on things that are personally meaningful to me. I don't exist in a vacuum and need to consider other people when I make decisions. I don't want my future children or my partner to have to pay off my student loan debt because I decided to make $30k/year as a freelance film critic/barista. In my case, being "authentic" would also mean being a narcissistic asshole. Have you seen "Surfwise?" Doc Paskowitz and his wife lived a life that completely adhered to their beliefs, but they fucked up all of their kids in the process. The trade off isn't worth it.
I suspect this is what happened to Nathalie. Whenever her life stopped being solely about her, she couldn't afford to be as radical. She got a teaching job, settled down in Paris, and became the type of bourgeoisie woman who balks at throwing away an Ikea bag in a fit of rage. Now that her husband, mother, and children are gone, she has the freedom to reevaluate, though. I don't think intellectual fulfillment on its own is sufficient for a lifetime of happiness, but I do think it's enough at certain stages/for certain people.
At this later stage in her life, Nathalie is free to be selfish. She doesn't have to worry about anyone else and while that may initially seem scary, it has the potential to be quite liberating. With 50+ years of life experience, she's better equipped to identify what is most important to her - both personally and philosophically. Fabien thinks he has it all figured out, but what the fuck does he know? He hasn't even felt the tip of life's dick.