At the close of Season 3, after Chidi is taken away from her, Eleanor, like Chidi and Michael before her, has her own existential crisis, and begs the all-knowing Janet for ‘the answer’ to existence. Janet’s beautiful response prompted me to reflect on how this same sentiment was portrayed in other shows and movies I love…
If there were an answer I could give you
to how the universe works,
it wouldn’t be special.
It would just be machinery
fulfilling its cosmic design.
It would just be a big,
But since nothing seems to make sense,
when you find something
~Janet, The Good Place, 3×12
At the close of Season 3, after Chidi is taken away from her, Eleanor, like Chidi and Michael before her, has her own existential crisis, and begs the all-knowing Janet for ‘the answer’ to existence. What gives our lives meaning? What good is love if it doesn’t last? Janet responds by saying not knowing the answer is ‘part of the fun’ of being human, and elaborates with the quote above. This was a familiar sentiment in the sense that I have seen it expressed in many other shows and movies. I was inspired to reflect on these other ways the same message has been expressed, and compile them into one collage of emotional imagery from each retelling. In order to be included in this college, the show or movie had to not only involve a well-told love story, but one in which the participants confronted the senselessness of the world – via grappling with death, feelings of isolation, loss of existential purpose, or often all of the above – and made the choice to love, against all odds and at all costs. Faced with the loss of what they thought gave their lives meaning, these characters made the choice to create their own meaning in the connections they made with others. For full size versions of this image, click here.
- Her – Theodore Twombly spins in public with his new friend Samantha, in a moment of freedom from his depression, loneliness, and social inhibitions.
- Revenant – Hugh Glass hugs his son, sheltering him from the cold after fleeing from the raiders who burned their village and killed the boy’s mother.
- Up – Carl and Ellie’s chairs sit dignified yet abandoned on the cliffside they always dreamed of visiting together, simultaneously signifying Carl’s continued connection to his deceased wife and his resolve to move forward, making new connections with those still living.
- Moonlight – Chiron rests his head on Kevin’s shoulder, finally collapsing the walls he has built up since their moment of intimacy followed by heartbreak so long ago.
- Good Will Hunting – Will’s defenses, his guilt, and his pride finally break down with the simple phrase “It’s not your fault.” leaving Will once again capable of sincere connection with others.
- Interstellar – Cooper embraces his sobbing daughter before leaving on a journey of undetermined length, a heart-wrenching scene which will later be revealed to be the crux of the entire film.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Joel and Clem lie on cracking ice together, in a movie that uses Nietzschean philosophy to argue that painful memories and experiences are an integral part of human connection, and cannot be erased without erasing the possibility of connection, too.
- Game of Thrones – Following Littlefinger’s declaration that the climb, or the struggle for power, is all there is, Jon Snow and Ygritte are shown completing their treacherous climb up the Wall and embracing, cinematically proving Littlefinger wrong – beyond the climb, there is love.
- The Hateful Eight – As they lay dying, Major Marquis Warren hands Sheriff Chris Mannix “the Lincoln letter,” a note that once divided them along racial and political lines now uniting them in mutual respect for each other’s humanity.
- The Lord of the Rings – Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins embrace on their long, treacherous journey in which they can rely on no one and nothing but the strength of their bond.
- The Tree of Life – The family is united in the metaphysical realm of the Way of Grace as Jack sees hope, happiness, and peace in choosing love and compassion over force and ego-centrism.
- Warrior – Tommy collapses into his brother’s arms, the two resolved to move forward together from their troubled pasts.
- Slumdog Millionaire – Jamal and Latika reunite after years of suffering and separation, having risked everything to be together.
- I don’t feel at home in this world anymore – Ruth learns to see the good in others and find comfort in community, especially in her outcast neighbor Tony, despite all the troubles and senselessness of the rest of the world.
- Mudbound – Ronsel leaves behind pain and intolerance in America and begins a new life with his girlfriend and newborn child in Germany.
- Birdman, or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance – Sam rests her head on her injured father’s chest in a moment of love and acceptance, the thing her father has really been unwittingly aiming for all this time.
- The Shape of Water – Elisa embraces the amphibian man, both willing to die for the only other being who has loved them despite their deviations from “normality.”
- Bojack Horseman – Bojack and Diane sit on a rooftop, physically isolating themselves from a world from which they feel psychologically alienated, grappling with their complicated feelings toward each other.
- My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend – At the close of (in my opinion) the best stand-up comedy performance in history, Mike Birbiglia raises his hands in triumph like an Olympic gymnast after a stumble, resolved to give up his ego and convictions in favor of his love for his wife.
- The Good Place – Eleanor and Chidi look into each other’s eyes, perhaps seeing in them the endless iterations of their relationship, the many struggles they have been through in the afterlife, and the love they have for each other no matter what comes next.
- Harold and Maude – Harold and Maude meet at another funeral, each understanding the other in a way no one else ever has, and each resolved to laugh in the face of death for the rest of their lives.
- Inception – Mal and Cobb risk everything by killing themselves in limbo, reciting the words: “You’re waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can’t know for sure. But it doesn’t matter. How can it not matter to you where this train will take you? Because you’ll be together.”
- Black Mirror: San Junipero – Kelly decides to be with Yorkie forever in San Junipero, choosing their love in the present over her love for her deceased husband.
- Coco – Miguel plays “Remember Me” for his Great-grandma Coco, a song her father wrote for her that had since been lost by the family, after rediscovering his roots and atoning for his previous rejection of family and tradition.
- Okja – Mija embraces Okja, her superpig best friend who gets kidnapped by a corporation seeking to slaughter it and profit from the sale of its meat.
- Molly’s Game – Molly sits on a park bench with her estranged father, putting the pieces back together of the broken relationship that was the unconscious catalyst for Molly’s exploitative and manipulative behavior over the last two decades.
- 50/50 – Adam and Kyle sit together, their bond the one source of stability in Adam’s life, recently torn apart by his terminal cancer diagnosis.
- Stand By Me – Gordie and Chris support each other on their journey to uncover the dead body of a 12-year-old boy, symbolizing the death of their youth and entrance into maturity.