cinema review: Zorba the Greek (1964)

If you want existentialism without the angst, Zorba the Greek is your ticket. The scenery is gorgeous. Anthony Quinn is amazing. The townspeople are morally depraved, well, everyone is in this film. I'm not sure if the characters are immoral, but, rather, amoral to a large degree. This movie is a dramatization of the philosophy of Nietzsche in particular. So a brief philosophical and theological discussion must be included in this review.

What is existentialism? This brief definition at captures the flavor seen in the film. A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts.

Nothing is declared right or wrong in this story. Sex outside of marriage is achieved without conscience: affairs, prostitutes, multiple partners, rape, nothing is condemned. But the universe is not indifferent to their escapades. It is indeed hostile. In fact, it seems almost just, as if God is shouting at them to repent, but instead Zorba laughs and dances.

The essayist in Wikipedia regarding the themes in the novel writes,
The novel can be perceived as a vaccine against metaphysical thinking and it describes the contrast introduced by Friedrich Nietzsche between the Apollonian and the Dionysian outlook on life. Apollo/the narrator represents the spirit of order and rationality, while Dionysus/Zorba represents the spirit of ecstatic, spontaneous will to live. It could be argued that the narrator does not make much of a struggle against the Dionysian spirit; however, the book is a tribute to life in this world, as was the philosophy of Nietzsche.
The last part kills me. A tribute to the world?! A widow is lynched after her one night stand with the Briton for which her spurned suitor committed suicide. The existentialist can acknowledge, hurt feelings, but not cry out for justice. Who can Apollo go to to find order and rationality if there is no being greater than himself that defines order? What is left for these existentialist characters? They don't rise above their fellow members of humanity, but participate themselves in grabbing as much as they can before the next disaster befall them. They are no different from the townspeople who pillage the French courtesan's home and hotel seconds after her death. Zorba, her fiancé, has no interest in arranging a funeral, since she is no longer existent. Honoring her soul is no different from honoring the clothes she wore in his view.

This movie celebrates selfishness, but it's a self-defeating celebration. Life can be celebrated, but it's best celebrated within the channel God has carved. Overflowing the banks of this channel, like all floods, causes pain and hurt. This is a movie about a flood but denies the pain caused, and encourage us to enjoy the ride nevertheless. It's movie only the hard-hearted can enjoy. The soft-hearted mourn for the wreckage of lives left in it's ebb.


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