“But it’s also nothing special.” Existentialism, I Heart Huckabees and The Meaning of Life and Death

10 Jun

The perfect treatment for an existential crisis?

I Heart Huckabees
(2004) is both an absurd film and a film about absurdity. Directed by David O. Russell, the film follows Albert (Jason Shwartzman) a poetry writing, marsh saving, twenty-something year old in his time of existential crisis. Albert is exposed to competing philosophies on the meaning of life, or more to the point, in how one should make meaning out of life, through the existential detectives Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivienne (Lily Tomlin) and their rival Caterine (Isabelle Huppert). In its basic form the arguments presented are that everything is connected and that nothing is connected .These ideas form the foundation for the competing philosophical concepts of existentialism and nihilism respectively.

Albert’s struggle to accept one or both of these arguments results from his being a “fractured” creature (Rowlands, 2005, p. 24). Initially he sees his purpose in life parallel his occupational purpose that of saving the environment from the urban sprawl proposed by capitalist conglomerates such as Huckabees. However, although he believes this is his ultimate purpose in life, others around him feel he is unsuited to the task and he is stripped of his responsibilities. Thus his two selves are represented: Albert as he sees himself from the inside and Albert as he is seen from the outside. This clash of views of oneself is known in philosophy as a situation of absurdity (Rowlands, 2005).

So how do we know the meaning of our lives? The general argument of existentialism is that yes the world is absurd and that neither “God” nor reason can give life a universal meaning, there is no “pre-existing standards or values” from which humans can assess the meaning of their life (Falzon, 2002, p. 109). Rather, for existentialists, each individual has the ability to choose for themselves purpose for their own lives.

The existential detectives push Albert to explore his own ideas about himself, to re-evaluate his inside view. They emphasise the interconnectedness of all things represented by the “blanket” and they encourage Albert to see the blanket for what it really is – him, them, everyone and everything and therefore everything he could ever want or be he already has and is. However as Rowland (2005, p. 22) suggests, meaning can only be achieved if one “fails to achieve what gives them meaning.” Therefore if Albert accepts the blanket theory, reconciles his inside view of himself and his outside view of himself, and comes to the conclusion that he is everything he ever wanted to be, than he is stripped of the very struggle in life that gives him purpose and therefore his life will truly become meaningless.

To what end does Russell allow Albert to forfeit all meaning in his life and of his life? In the final scene Albert is talking to his friend Tommy (Mark Wahlberg). They converse about interconnectedness and how although it is amazing it is also, “nothing special.” They then move on to talk about Albert’s plans to chain himself to a tree the following day, a plan which Tommy, is happy to join in with. Here, the director suggests that although Albert may have come to an understanding about his place in the world and the meaning of his life, there is always another struggle to enter into and it is these small things that make Albert’s life a life worth living.



Falzon, C. (2002). Philosophy goes to the movies. London: Routledge.

Rowlands, M. (2005). The Philosopher at the End of the Universe. London: Ebury House.

Russell, D. O. (Director). (2004). I Heart Huckabees [Motion Picture].



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