|Student essay--NOT for duplication in any form|
21 November 2006
“You Complete Me”
Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, presents his audience with the idea of the “existential vacuum.” According to his theory, “If meaning is what we desire, then meaningless is a hole, an emptiness, in our lives” (Frankl 162). In other words, one’s life is empty without meaning. People try to fill their “existential vacuums” with anything they can to provide themselves with satisfaction that only turns out to last temporarily. Some also try to fill their voids (whatever they may be) by developing cycles, such as obsessions, in their lives. However, obsessions are never enough (Frankl). The idea that man must feel whole in order for his life to have meaning goes beyond psychology and can also be seen in Hollywood today.
One film this idea is seen in is Jerry Maguire. This popular film directed by Cameron Crowe is about sports agent Jerry Maguire who, after having second thoughts about certain decisions he has made, reevaluates his career and life (Rocher). During the film, Jerry nearly loses his wife to divorce and realizes she fills his own personal void—his need for emotional and physical love and meaning in his life. Jerry’s realization is expressed when he says,
‘Tonight our company, our little business, had a very big night, but it wasn’t complete. It wasn’t even close to being in the same vicinity as complete, because I couldn’t share it with you. I couldn’t laugh about it with you. I miss… I miss my wife…I love you. You complete me.’ (Crowe)
For some people, it takes nearly losing what they have in order to appreciate its value and the meaning it really holds in one’s life. The need to fill one’s “existential vacuum” can also be seen in the film 25th Hour, directed by the well known and controversial Spike Lee.
Spike Lee carefully constructs the scenes of 25th Hour so each and every detail has meaning. The main idea in this film is that everyone has voids in their lives and experiences the need to feel emotionally complete. The idea of personal voids is certainly seen between the characters Jacob Elinsky and Mary D’Annunizio in the scene entitled “Jake the Snake.” Lee constructs meaning through Jacob’s and Mary’s mannerisms and their language, portraying this theme through the use of music, circles, and red lighting.
The title of the scene, “Jake the Snake,” holds much religious meaning with biblical connotations. The name Mary represents Christ’s mother, the Virgin Mary, someone who is pure and innocent. Mary’s character in the film strives so hard to make her life feel complete that she contradicts the very meaning of her name. Jacob’s name generally means “he who supplants” or takes the place of or substitutes (“Think Baby Names”). The name Jacob is perfect for the character because he serves as a substituted “father” for Mary. “Jake the Snake” is a pet name Mary gives Jacob, her teacher, which recalls the snake from the Garden of Eden and the temptation of wanting something one morally should not have. Both Mary and Jacob want each other in different ways that morally go beyond the student/teacher relationship, and, therefore, not only is Jacob a “snake” for Mary, but Mary is also a “snake” for Jacob. They want to fill their own voids, however immoral the desire may be.
Ostensibly, Mary’s incompleteness in the film is due to the lack of a stable parental figure in her life. Mary states in a conversation at the club, “You think my mother gives a shit?! She’s probably at her boyfriend’s, anyway.” The estranged relationship Mary has with her mother is also represented in her tattoo of a dashed circle that surrounds her belly button, drawing reference to where the mother and unborn child are connected. Mary, as a cry for the attention her mother does not give her, flirts with Jacob. Jacob ELinsky is the only man in her life who has not abandoned her, the only one who seems to care about her well being, so she turns to him to fill her void of a parental figure.
Paul R. Amato, a professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, explains Mary’s actions towards her teacher in his article “The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generation.” The article states that children belonging to a single-parent family have a higher risk of experiencing cognitive, social, and emotional problems. Economic hardship, a poorer quality of parenting, and an increased exposure to stress are all more common in single parent homes (3). Overall these factors contribute to the instability in Mary’s home, and cause her to reach out to Jacob to have that feeling of stability and wholeness.
Jacob’s void is a lack of connection and love from a woman. Mary is a woman who shows an interest in him, so she becomes who he wants despite the fact she is his student. He resists Mary’s initial passes but at the same time wants to give in to them. Jacob’s mannerisms illustrate this when he unconsciously leans towards her, entranced by her tattoo, and then sits back and away from her, throwing his hands up saying, “I give a shit!” as she straddles his lap. He knows it is wrong to pursue a student; however, he enjoys the attention she gives him because it seems to fill the void of love he has in his life. His language also expresses his need for love when he curiously asks Mary, “What do you love about me?” Mary previously makes the comment, “That’s what I love about you,” and this causes Jacob to feel intrigued and adored.
The camera shows Jacob standing at the bottom of the stairs where the floor forms the shape of a half circle as he watches Mary go into the bathroom. Lee utilizes the half circle throughout the film, indicating voids and “missing pieces” in the characters’ lives, as also seen in Mary’s tattoo. A circular window is located on the bathroom door. Just at the half circle represents a void, the complete circle is indicative of wholeness. Behind the bathroom door, Jacob, who follows Mary to the bathroom, goes to attempt to fill his void and make his circle whole. However, the bathroom is located under a red exit sign which foreshadows that something significant will no longer be present at the scene’s end.
In the bathroom, Spike Lee uses a deep red lighting to intensify the situation at hand. Red is usually a color of love and passion; however, in this case it refers to an absence of love and the presence of an awkward passion and attraction. In this shot, Jacob kisses Mary, who is only seventeen, and immediately realizes it to be a mistake. Only Jacob’s back is seen in the mirror, portraying a sense of shamefulness for what he does. He wipes his mouth off as if it will remove the mistake he commits. Mary also removes Jacob’s hat from her head, signifying the removal of her innocence and youth as a result of the act that just took place. As one of the final shots, Spike Lee uses a dolly shot on Jacob’s character, capturing his emotion. He maintains a look of fear on his face as if he cannot believe he actually kissed his student. The music that plays in the background of this scene could not be more ironic. The lyrics say, “It’s alright. You can still go on.” However, nothing about this scene between a student and teacher is alright.
Although nothing about the scene “Jake the Snake” is socially acceptable, Philip Seymour Hoffman, the actor who plays Jacob Elinsky in the film, “sympathize[s] with this guy completely” in reference to his character during an interview (Murray). Hoffman gives his personal reasons as to why his character finds himself obsessed with his underage student. Hoffman states that
‘I think that this guy has no interest in sleeping with underage girls at all. I think this is an obsession he has with one specific girl for very specific reasons that the minute he kisses her, evaporate very quickly… Because [Mary] stands for everything that he’ll never be and never was, which is somebody who is brave… [Mary]’s very open with her sexuality and she’s very confident. I think it just preys on [Jacob’s] own insecurities which creates an obsession, which creates this thing.’ (Murray)
Hoffman enforces the idea that his character, Jacob Elinsky, is a man with an incomplete life who needs his emotional desires met by another woman. Unfortunately, Jacob Elinsky confuses his need for love with his obsession for Mary due to his own insecurities.
The elements of the circles, red lighting, and the music all reinforce the theme and idea that everyone has something missing in his/her life, a void that needs to be filled. Jacob and Mary and just two characters in this film with something missing in their life. Every character in the film has a void in her/his life. This is why it is so fitting for the film to take place in a post 9/11 New York City, a city which also has a void, but one that cannot be filled so easily. During this scene, the audience is made to feel both disgusted and uncomfortable at the actions Jacob takes towards Mary, and at the same time pity because of the level he resorts to just to try and feel loved. The audience does get a sense of hope for Jacob at the end of the film when a passing jogger notices him walking Monty’s dog, Doyle. It suggests that Jacob may one day have a normal adult relationship with a woman. This bit of hope that the viewers receive represents that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel, life can get better. The voids in our lives can be filled. Unfortunately, this hope the viewers feel towards Jacob is not necessarily given for all the characters, but that is life. Life is not always a happy ending for everyone. Some people fill the voids of their life, some hide or do not accept the fact that they have voids, and others may feel they do not have voids and their life is complete. In a way this film can make one reevaluate his/her life to see if there is a void in need of being filled.
***Works Cited not attached to this link