Do you heart “Huckabees?”

Blair Adornato

Excitement for philosophy class is a rarity. I don’t know many Villanovans who rejoice in their attendance to class, whether it be learning about the work of Aristotle or collaborating over the questions of Plato. And Augustine’s discoveries paralleled with discussions on the true meaning of Star Wars are rarely brought up outside of Tolentine. Existentialism and John Paul Sartre never really did it for students from what I’ve seen either – until now, that is.

David O. Russell, through his new film “I Heart Huckabees” has shown us what a great script, talented actors and creative humor can do for philosophy. Most movies dealing with the existential meaning of life are fraught with clichés and depressive nuances that make us want to either shoot ourselves or lock ourselves in a study until we figure out what we are doing with our lives. But Russell does the complete opposite.

In his new film featuring Jason Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law and Naomi Watts, he brings the theories of Eastern existentialism of infinite connection and the nihilistic ideas of John Paul Sartre together in a comedic crash course of coincidence, calamity and camaraderie. He uses funky music, bright images and sunlight, caricatures, graphics, humor, nature and sex to make us think- while we never realize that is exactly what we are doing-thinking. He has us wondering if there is a meaning to all we do or if we are all going to die alone in the end while we are in stitches at the nuances of each character he gives us.

We are caught between a desire to laugh at the ridiculousness of his satire while at the same time wondering if these characters have a point. We become attached to his characters based on the way they perceive their lives in accordance with our perceptions of our own.

This strange and fantastic journey is the brainchild of Russell, who wrote the script for Jason Schwartzman nearly six years ago. And when I met these two Hollywoodites at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia, I knew exactly why they are so drawn to each other. Russell wears blazing white tennis shoes with his suit. Schwartzman is not quite ready for the starkness of white, but instead, sports black New Balances, still with a suit. They sit across from each other, each one checking their answer with the other with their eyes, one nodding in agreement as the other is persuaded to continue. There is a chemistry between them as if they have just pulled a prank and are trying with all their might not to break their poker faces. They are not coworkers, they are friends.

And as Schwartzman put it, this is not just a movie, it’s his twenties. He has spent six years as Albert Markovski (his character in the movie), on paper and on film, a quirky fellow with activist ideas too big for the space around him. And it is Albert’s journey on this film that Russell has spent years developing, for through Albert, we meet a montage of characters that bring Russell’s philosophical ideas to life. The film comes to life when Albert meets Vivian and Bernard Jaffe, a married pair of existential detectives whom Albert hires in order to explain a triad of coincides with an African doorman. But this is merely the pretext; from there, we are introduced to a motley crew of characters who are significantly intertwined in the psyche and life of Markovski. Each character becomes involved in the crazy theories of Vivian and Bernard and those of their rival, Caterine Vauban, and a struggle for power over the existential ensues. He personifies the two theories of infinite connection and nihilistic views that nothing really matters through these rivals.

Beyond the uplifting and impressive performances of the cast, there lies an intelligence in Russell’s stylistic film that turns a theme that could easily be drab and dreary into a ridiculous satire that simultaneously mocks and celebrates the essence of life.

If one has seen his previous film “Flirting with Disaster,” then his sense of wit is familiar. Russell takes a common occurrence and turns it into entertainment through the character’s interactions with each other. His comedy is familiar in his new film, yet it never wears thin. For what sets “I Heart Huckabees” apart from so many others in today’s world of entertainment is its ability to combine important questions and ideas with comic relief. Russell sought out expression of infinite connection and recycled consciousness through the idea that all objects around us are not separated in reality but by our minds in order to understand them. He shows us this through intriguing graphics and special effects.

What results from all this graphic madness, infinite connection, rivalry, detective work and conversation is a ridiculous and erratic journey as Albert struggles to retain his sanity as each party attempts to transcend his consciousness in the manner they see fit.

Russell uses creative techniques with filming and editing, an energetic cast with new and old blood side by side, great colors and visuals and such formalities as suits and bicycles in an informal film in nearly every scene to build his empire over the state of consciousness. And long after he will reign as the director who broke all the rules to create a masterpiece. And that is truly what it is. As Jason Schwartzman so eloquently put it, “the movie itself is a train, and the ideas in it are merely stowaways.” I just hope you make it in time for the train.