Immortality: a prize so great that some would die in attempting to secure it. But are they wise to do so? The Last Crusade suggests not. After all, not only are the two people who throw their lives away villains, but the knight who guards the Grail explicitly warns that the cost of living forever is having to stay in that very same temple, forever. And what sort of life would that be? Immortality – the film is suggesting – might be a curse, rather than a blessing.
Such a conclusion will not come as a surprise to philosophers who have considered the issue. In his essay ‘The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality’ (1973), the English moral philosopher Bernard Williams suggested that living forever would be awful, akin to being trapped in a never-ending cocktail party. This was because after a certain amount of living, human life would become unspeakably boring. We need new experiences in order to have reasons to keep on going. But after enough time has passed, we will have experienced everything that we, as individuals, find stimulating. We would lack what Williams called ‘categorical’ desires: ie, desires that give us reasons to keep on living, and instead possess only ‘contingent’ desires: ie, things that we might as well want to do if we’re alive, but aren’t enough on their own to motivate us to stay alive. For example, if I’m going to carry on living, then I desire to have my tooth cavity filled – but I don’t want to go on living simply in order to have my cavity filled. By contrast, I might well want to carry on living so as to finish the grand novel that I’ve been composing for the past 25 years. The former is a contingent, the latter a categorical, desire.
One morning in 2010, while filming the movie “Bridesmaids,” I went into my trailer and saw that our wardrobe department had laid out my dress, my earrings, my headband, my shoes, and—last but not least—my underpants. On top of the underpants was a pretty pink card that read “Ellie Undergarment.” It had come to this. I was a thirty-year-old woman, having her underpants laid out for her as part of her job. One of my former classmates was writing speeches for Obama; one of his former classmates needed help dressing herself.
I like to think that I am tough and resourceful. So, when I stopped to contemplate the fact that the most challenging part of my workday might be to pretend that I had bumped my knee on a coffee table, I had to ask myself, “Am I not as brave and self-sufficient as my mother says I am?” The glance between my hairdresser and my pedicurist confirmed my suspicion. O.K., yes, as an actor, I could be sensitive. But did my co-workers think I was a full-on wuss?
The community was all for it, and the line stretched around the block. “We are here,” announced a mural on the side of the squat black building, “changing lives, building communities”.
Only it hasn’t turned out that way.
Age is inconsequential to the enjoyment of many of life’s finer offerings, but amusement park rides that are not bolted firmly to the ground are a nightmare when you’re over the age of 30. Rides are no longer fun; they are hell; they are 90 seconds of terror and incipient sciatica. I’m too old to go on anything that lifts my body and jostles it around like a salt shaker.
A full century later, Mencken’s review still holds true. In almost every way, Cather writes at a level beyond every other American author. One could not be blamed, if giving any of Cather’s novels only a cursory read, in believing her writing style somewhat juvenile and superficial. Such a reading, though, would be dead wrong.
The ugly history of the Children of God broke into wide public view in 2005, when Ricky Rodriguez — groomed from infancy to lead the cult known for sexual sharing in their communal homes — murdered his former nanny before committing suicide. Apocalypse Child, an enlightening but narrowly focused memoir by Flor Edwards, paints a more complicated picture of the group than do the lurid headlines.