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The Fountain of Life

by Michal Škrek

In this peculiar cinematographic piece, the audience is confronted very directly and emotionally with one of the hottest topics in the field of bioethics:“death and human relation towards it”.

Same as in the movie, we are situated in the context of post-industrial secular world, facing a spiritual emptiness as mentioned by Nietzsche’s death of God. Same as in the eyes of the protagonist, death is perceived as “unwanted enemy”, inevitable reality to confront, which haunts us. The cultural craving for immortality and youth has been rapidly growing during last decades.

Understandably we are biologically programmed to experience an agitation and profound fear, when facing something so abstract as death. It is the ultimate gaze into the abyss of nothingness (or everythingness), which transcend all the contents of the human mind.

This accompanied by the fact that the post-industrial society has no cultural grammar to address death and dying, is leaving a huge psychospiritual gap in how medical professionals are dealing with situations of death and dying.

Many medical practitioners unconsciously close their eyes in front of death and prefer to reject the situation, in which their patient is dying. Many times, they don’t feel comfortable to talk about it, so they don’t inform the patient about their situation. Anyone, who worked with medical professionals could’ve appreciated that death is considered a big failure of medicine and of the doctor. Situations of immanent death are often not addressed as they ought to be. The patients and their fundamental right to autonomy and to know about their situation are often not considered enough. Instead of admitting the limitation of the current scientific advances often many unnecessary and ineffective treatment strategies and interventions take place, despite these could be deteriorating the quality of life of the patient. This being especially sensible, as we are talking about the last moments of these patients lives.

Rather than this an honest conversation about the patient’s situation, attention, compassion and empathy would be appreciated and could be of much greater help to the patient, then doing all the, many time iatrogenic, procedures.

In the movie this dialog can be appreciated through Izzy, who is very conscious about her situation and accepts her death in a way, which is culturally not normative and not understood by her scientist husband Tom. Instead of spending quality time with her, as she wants him to, during her last moments, he is feverously investigating new treatment modalities in his ultimate egoic resistance against the ways of nature.

This movie calls for a new framework of treating with death, taking inspiration in other cultural myths and philosophies as we see in Izzie’s story. This takes the spectator to the realm of mythos treating the quest of immortality. Mythos so old that since the Epos of Gilgamesh, it still rings the cords of the human psyche.

The mythos is presenting an unexpected inflexion, when finally, the conquistador discovers “the key to immortality and eternal life”, which paradoxically means his own personal death. The protagonist is left serving as a fertile soil for plants and the unstoppable force of life and nature, which shows us another, preindustrial way of relating to death. This perception comes from the animistic Indigenous beliefs, in which life is a dynamic process in which energies are transformed, so the personal death is not an ultimate death. This vision is very close to the vision of Spinoza and his panpsychist nature of reality. Immortality being rather the constant flow of energy and life through the Cosmos, than a maintenance of a personal self-consciousness for an eternity of time.

This movie is an invitation to reflect on our own mortality and relation to death. We could argue that maybe death of the personal Self could be perceived as a meaning generating machinery, which allows individuals to have purpose in our life as deGrasse Tyson states.

And that rather than focusing on avoiding and hiding from death, we should better walk with death as “an old friends” in the sense of the “Memento Mori” and appreciate every moment of our lives to its fullest.

Rather than many times unreasonable fights against death, maybe we should consider, that in some situations, it is better to accept the limitations of our science and to focus on a qualia of a good dying and death with dignity, in which we can accompany our loved ones or our patients until their last moment. Living this act as a spiritually significant phenomenological experience and one of the fundamental constitutes of human existence.

Let’s end this article with a inspirational cultural fact from Tibet, where the Tibetan Buddhists treat the end of life in a very noble way, during which they read to their deceasing from the Tibetan book of death. A book which serves as a tool describing the phenomenology of deceasing. A very meaningful end of life ritual, which allows a person a peaceful and dignified passing.




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Message from Paula Lukaszewicz  » 4 August 2023 » paulukaszewicz@hotmail.com 

El argumento de esta película me pareció muy profundo e interesante en general, pero lo que más me resonó fue el tiempo que Tomas le dedicó a buscar la manera de prolongar la vida de su pareja en vez de darle lugar a lo que ella expresa, tratar de acompañarla y aprovechar al máximo los posibles momentos compartidos. Este hecho de dejar de lado la visión y los deseos de quién atraviesa tanto una enfermedad como una situación de invalidez, para quedar a merced de sus familiares, su pareja o quién sea que esté "a cargo" de su vida, es algo que vemos ya sea en casos reales que fueron mediatizados como en diferentes películas o series. Se suele naturalizar este dejar de lado los deseos de quién es el protagonista real para ser acallado por lo que deciden los que lo rodean cuando el foco debería estar puesto en la persona afectada en primera instancia, el dueño de ese cuerpo sufriente.

Film:The Fountain

Original Title:The Fountain

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Year: 2006

Country: Estados Unidos

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