Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Smells Like Regret

Hello Reader!  As you know, I'm prone to writing these blogs in response to a movie, book, or tv show that has recently inspired me.  Seeing as how Inception is just such an inspiration, on a scale whose magnitude I cannot readily comprehend, one would think I would immediately blog my heart out about it.  I won't however, keeping in character as the contrarian I pathetically try to be.

What I'm going to write about today is regret.  It's such a powerful emotion state of being that is incorporated in almost every hero's tale.  Why though?  Why is regret such a necessary part of a hero's character?  From Odysseus on up to Batman regret can drive, haunt, stop and burden the heroes we want to see as stoic paragons.  There is an ethereal (I use that word deliberately) attraction we, as the audience, have to heroes filled with regret.

You could blame this all on the Judeo-Christian philosophy of original sin.  That would be easy, and because the idea is so widespread we've got a blanket reasoning behind the ubiquity.  But that's not good enough.  Where's the explanation then for Odysseus, or Oedipus, for Achilles, for the Shanahmeh? Western literature may be rife with heroes who run towards martyrdom with regret biting at their heels because Adam screwed up at the beginning.  But before that?  The explanation thus requires further delving in order for it to be discovered.

But where else can you delve?  We've got no references, and saying that a cultural story about some mistake at the beginning of time is merely an anachronistic euphemism for original sin.  Basically, there's nowhere to go but down -  into the human soul.

We as human beings have a deep yearning for drama.  Not because we're all queens looking to screw each other over.  Get General Hospital out of your head.  No, it's because we seek to give purpose to our lives.  We seek to fulfill that purpose, and via that fulfillment we will have given our own answer to why we are here.  The need for drama is a method through which we fulfill our own, self-determined purposes.  Regret then is a marker, a clear indicator that you tried.  You did your damnedest and made your decisions in an attempt to fulfill your personal legend - yes, I just finished reading Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.

Having regret is not the only indicator that one tried to fulfill his/her purpose.  But it is the strongest, because it also meant that you failed at achievement.  You reached, and you fell.  As a marker of progress, regret is paradoxical then.  It is both a reason to exalt and a reason to console, a sign that you made choices and decisions few have the courage to make - but you just couldn't follow through and get the goal.  Does this, the sign post nature of regret, explain why we love it in our heroes?

To a degree, yes.  But a deeper facet remains, and I've gotta let it out.  We, as human beings, like to see people rise above our base nature.  And we equally adore seeing them fall back down.  It's a reflection of our own dualism, and heroes with regret are those men and women who travel between the twin realms of triumph and failure.  We see them rise, because they've made choices we could never hope to make.  And then when they fall we love them more, because we see that, in fact, they truly are human.

What does this mean though?  Can a hero only be filled with regret, never grasping onto true success?  No, absolutely not.  Regret is not the absence of succes.  Achilles achieved fame beyond recognition or legend to become myth, an honor reserved only for Gods.  He got his success.  But at a price.  The woman he loved was but an ephemeral memory, a transient who filled his vision for but a second before Paris struck him down.  Did he, as a man, regret not living a life with this woman?  Yes.  And that is what regret is, at its most basic core without accoutrements or extra adornments.  It is the absence of perfection, gained through the courageous pursuit of purpose and fulfillment.

Which is why we love our heroes to have regret.  Their pain means more than just a good story.  It means they fought, and bit, and gnawed, and scrambled their way through Hellfire and all its friends to get to rapture.  They represent the best of us when they have regret, and the worst of us at the same time. There's a reason why Narcissus is a legend: human beings love looking in the mirror.  What we find enraptures our considerable mental faculty, fascinates our imagination.  Heroes with regret are our most potent reflections, emblazoned in crystalline form without impurity.  They have tried, and they have failed, and then they tried again.  We love them, adore them, cherish them.  Because at the end of the day, when all has been said and done, these reminders of what we can become and what we are paint beauty upon this dry canvas.  God (swt), how I hope Briok can be a hero.  Until next time then.

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