Thu 2 Apr 2009
On September 18th, 2006, my wife and I saw Little Miss Sunshine. It really absorbed me. I wrote my wife an email from work the next day once I’d had a good night to let my thoughts “percolate”, as you might say. That email has since gotten forwarded around a bit. I’ve been told by several people that they’d been inspired enough to save it. That made me think, “Hey, easy blog post, I’ll just copy and paste that old email!” It may seem odd or untimely to post a review of a 2 year old movie, but ultimately, it is not really about the movie anyway. As you will see it is about us; about my life and your life. It is about something that I believe that we all came here to experience as part of the full palate of life’s blessings. And that is suffering, and our struggle to understand its meaning in our lives. Well, the topic is close to my heart and I hope it touches you as well. As Friedrich Nietzsche might say, this post is dedicated to “the few”…
I keep thinking about that movie last night.
I am curious about the writer or director of that movie. I felt that he did a good job of splitting the various sides of ones personality into several pieces and then bringing those pieces to life in a compelling way through the characters of the movie. We watch the drama of “the innocent child”, the “depressed rebellious teen”, the rejected suicidal academician, the driven, success seeking “Winner”, the regretful old man who wishes he could do it all over again, and the woman who has to hold them all together as a family… The characters are all so wildly different from each other, and yet I could identify with them all. It is as if the writer took each stage of his own life and created a character to represent it.
I really think that the whole movie was intended as a Nietzsche-esque morality tale. Of course, through Dwayne’s character Nietzsche is mentioned and his book “Thus Spake Zarathustra” was displayed. The “Moral of the story” given near the end of the movie is similar to one of Nietzsche’s teachings, which is “to embrace suffering“. I believe it is Frank who argues that those times of suffering are the best times, the important times. Nietzsche felt that suffering was the most authentic human experience, and also one that human nature sets out to deny it self of. And in denying itself, it inflicts it upon one another, and on the innocent.
Each character in the movie is discovering that the things they pursue are not only illusive, but ultimately meaningless. They are what Nietzsche called “the tawdry baubles of a distracted life”. The grandpa is reflecting on his life regretting that he didn’t pursue his passions more when he had the chance. The father is desperately pursuing fame and success which seems to remain always out of his grasp. Frank, the brother, has pursued a love and a career that have ultimately betrayed him. The son has already abandoned all his dreams in life save one, his quest to be a test pilot. Then life swoops down and strips him of his last and final hope when he realizes that he is colorblind – and thus ineligible for flight. The daughter seeks in vain to be a beauty queen; a quest that is so transparently harmful, meaningless and futile, and so obviously destined to cause her to cast aside her own natural authentic self in exchange for the generic plasticity that the pageant encourages. All this ultimately sets the stage for the entire cast of characters to have to question not just the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant, but the pageant of their own lives as well. As Duane says near the end of the film, “life is just one beauty pageant after another”. The only character who seems to be outside of this struggle is the mother. Who in a way acts as the hub of the wheel without whom all the spokes would simply fly apart.
The Little Miss Sunshine Pageant serves as the vehicle for the process of group realization. The palpable absurdity of watching Olive trying to win (or even compete) in this ridiculous pageant, and the sadness of seeing her tempted to exchange her own authentic beauty for the imitation of beauty the pageant rewards, helps the group to see that their own life pursuits have been absurd and inauthentic theatre pieces as well. As they watch the little girl innocently striving towards something that will ultimately crush her, the group together comes to appreciate that those “tawdry baubles” which we seem so willing to trade our authentic selves for are actually rather meaningless and absurd.
Nietzsche wrote that it is that moment of discovery, when life has essentially defeated you and utterly destroyed you, that you are finally able to reflect honestly and realize that you have willingly exchanged your own authenticity for the “welter of mere conventionality, mere opinion, and the stock beliefs and phrases of a narcotized, self hypnotized population”. It is in that moment that the only result must be a kind of “self loathing, the torture of mistrust, and the misery of him who is overcome.” This becomes ones moment of awakening, and finally gives one the inner will to cast meaninglessness aside and embrace Authenticity. Nietzsche felt that it is Suffering that is the path to Authenticity, and is why he felt that one should seek Suffering as a goal.
I agree with the spirit of this philosophy, but I disagree that one has to be destroyed in order to become authentic. I think that a better way to look at it is that if one chooses to place their hope and security in the inauthentic things, one will ultimately suffer and feel destroyed as a result.
Just a thought. I would like to see it again sometime.
More Little Miss Sunshine:
Addendum: I should add that I am not an expert on Friedrich Nietzsche (and certainly don’t claim to be). At the time I saw the movie, I had been listening to (and inspired by) a lecture titled “Nietzsche at the Twilight” by Daniel Robinson (I highly recommend this series by the way). It is quite possible that the quotes above may at times be my paraphrases of Professor Robinson’s paraphrases of Nietzsche’s work. As this was a casual email , I was writing casually. So please read it in this context.