8 Oct 2007

On Human Nature: some ideas about Heights (2004)

Recently, I saw Heights, a film directed by Chris Terrio in 2004. This is a film that probes into the fragile human nature of modern man. Setting in New York, what we see in this film is those modern looking characters, who try their best live as they have hoped in this big international city. Everyone has his/her past, and no one would dare to admit its existence. Their way of surviving in this city is by all means to cover their past history and pretend that their current life is as enjoyable as a Disney show. They would rather live in such a false verisimilitude, which is so close to reality, than unfold their past and be what they really are.

Indeed, this is what we human beings are. We always choose to look at the pretty side and ignore the dark side that actually constructs our life. Therefore, we seal whatever that is considered as inappropriate and wrong, and we pursue a fantasy that is so perfect in which nothing wrong would be shown and everything would be fine and beautiful. However, such a fantasy is only a lie, and lies can never survive the challenge of time. When such incidents happen, it is a time that we shall all face our true self, and it is also the time that we see how fragile human nature is. The story of Heights is a good representation of this weak human nature, and its aim to bring up such issue is to remind us that we shall be true to ourselves. Fantasy will never last long, and the consequence of it always brings us the unbearable failure.

Everyone is the victim, and everyone is the wrongdoer as well. We become victims because we never really face our past. Due to our lack of courage to face the past, we suffer from our actions of trying to build up a fantasy that is untrue. However, this action also makes the victim a wrongdoer. This victim/wrongdoer relationship produces tragic heroes, and Jonathan, a closeted gay man who pursues a fake but wonderful straight life, is the tragic hero in this film. We are not sure if he is truly in love with Isabel, but he does show his affection to her. They really share a perfect life, which is what they have expected. He has such a good intention to build up a family with Isabel. However, he ignores what is truly buried inside his heart, his true self. Jonathan is in fact a homosexual who is still having an affair with his neighbour, Alec, a young actor who has been suffering from Jonathan’s indecisiveness. Jonathan is cheating on his fiancé over another man, and this cheating is what makes his real life a false fantasy. Because of our social norms that consider homosexuality as impure and sinful, he seems to consider his true self as inappropriate and ugly. Living in this homophobic world, Jonathan is a victim who suffers. He tries his best to hide himself so as to keep his real life as perfect and beautiful. For this reason, when his affair with another man is finally revealed, he said to his fiancé that what happened is a shame. But this is his true self. Denying his true self for the false fantasy meaning denying his true existence in the reality. All his words and actions would naturally become meaningless because he is living in this fantasy that is just untrue. His actions and words make him the wrongdoer, who is responsible for the tragic incident. In order to protect his position as a victim and to ensure his social status in the society, he chose to lie to his fiancé, and this action has led him to the unbearable failure, to be the wrongdoer.

Can we blame Jonathan for being such a liar to his fiancé? Can we blame him for doing what he has to do to survive in the straight world? He can easily choose another life, which is a happy gay life with Alec. If he did, he could have shown the world his true identity. However, after having a good job in such a competitive society that normally rejects homosexuality in general, can he really give up what he has already built up and being what he truly is? When this question comes up, I believe most people would choose to maintain what they have had as Jonathan did. This is not about right or wrong; it is always about if you have met the right timing. With the right timing, the false fantasy could be maintained, and the secret private life will not be brought to light. If you are unlucky, like Jonathan, this only leads to one result, that is, you have to choose sides. In fact, when such a circumstance happened, you cannot freely choose where to go. You always have to just accept the result and wait for the verdict from the other victims who suffered from your actions. In this film, Jonathan is lucky to have Alec who is still willing to take him back. But will we all be so lucky like Jonathan?

This kind of problem that would have such a great impact on our personal life usually leads us to the state of being indecisive. It is this being indecisive that truly reveals our fragile human nature. Human nature is fragile because we are used to lies and false fantasies. We consider fantasies the power that encourages us to achieve all kinds of material satisfactions. But we must not forget that the satisfaction of material reality is not the true reality we live in. As mentioned, lies make everything meaningless. A life that is based on false fantasies would be a life that is completely meaningless, and therefore, all material achievements in this life are only vague ones that are alienated to us. So it would not be difficult for us to understand why Isabel determined to stop the relationship and why Jonathan chose to go back to Alec. Their crisis is in fact the best chance for them to examine their false fantasy and to finally see what they are and what they truly want to do. Though human nature is fragile, it can be amazingly strong when we finally identify with our true self.

By projecting Jonathan as an indecisive character, Heights shows us how ignorant we are trying to live in lies and false fantasies. Even we try so hard to protect this fragile bubble it still bursts. Only when we live a life that is true to ourselves could we be free from any forms of suffering. This is not a film that tells us what to do and how to do; it is a film that uses real life as a reflection to remind us that our past and our true identity must not be ignored.

Glenn Close is superb. She is such a great actress whose gestures, even just a glance or a single posture, are already full of energy that is totally theatrical. She plays Diana, Isabel’s mother, and her role in the film is just perfect for her. Playing as an actress, a master for performance, and a director, this role highlights Glenn’s ability as a professional performer. In the meantime, it is such a great pleasure to see Isabella Rossellini in this film. Though I am never impressed with her acting, especially comparing it to her mother, Ingrid Bergman, it is always good to see this beautiful actress on the screen.

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