June 12, 2022

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Generation Um...

A revealing look into the world of Keanu Reeves & The Spectrum of Disconnection

KR-Gen Um-car

Keanu Reeves in Generation Um... (2012)

This piece addresses a peaking condition of human despondency in today’s world, substantiated by exorbitant mental and emotional suffering, and multi-faceted attempts to relieve it via substance abuse, crime, violence, suicide, mass school shootings, and the list goes on. We face a crisis of consciousness that an outdated system of education, parenting and social programming cannot fix.

This examination delves into the presumed root of our widespread suffering, attempting to illuminate the core of our dis-ease: disconnection from self.

The schism within the human psyche that prevents us from knowing the essence of who we really are, has been a pervasive affliction spanning multitudes of generations, appearing in various forms and growing with amplified force… an affliction emerging in endless episodes of detrimental history reloaded.

Lost Identity: this enduring universal theme is presented quite literally in the film through its leading man and the nature of his surroundings. Perhaps this is the actual state of ‘Neo’, or ‘The One’, as we have also known him… just the unfiltered, down-to-earth, gritty version of the circumstance of his being.

"John"

Through his character “John”, this film shows a central aspect of KR’s (Keanu Reeves) inner world where he is ultimately LOST & ALONE.

Near the beginning, we see John walking along the filthy streets of New York, polluted with all sorts of stuff – noise, fumes, trash, trash-talking people…it is just another day in the predicament of his existence. He comes upon a bakery and stands outside looking at it for a moment, then steps away and pulls out two dollar bills from his pocket, that’s all he’s got. 

A few scenes later, we see John sitting alone outside the bakery on some dirty street and eating the cupcake he has bought himself. There is profound innocence and sadness in his eyes and his demeanor as he eats what turns out to be something between a meal and a marker of his birthday.

If you really tune in, it hits you that you are watching a picture of a very sad SOUL… rundown, sunken, emptied, neglected… homeless in the deepest sense.

This is the soul of a NOMAD – ‘gone’ on the most fundamental level – no purpose – no connection – no Identity. He has never learned to tap into his own qualities, never been taught any kind of craft, never taught anything in fact… never seen for who he is. He is disconnected from himself at the core.

He is a universal figure who lives in every one of us.

You just get to a point where your disappointment in yourself becomes so much bigger than your parents’ disappointment in you,” John says whilst sitting at a cafe with an ‘associate’ from his job, whose only interests are ranking on John and the waitress’s booty.
[00:29:30]

"John" sitting with work associate "Charles" (Daniel Sunjata)

And what does John do exactly? He is the driver for two young women who make their way as call-girls at twisted bachelor parties and other dodgy events; the arrangements are made by a female pimp who works as a travel agent on the up and up.

Earlier this day, John’s mom sends him some sorry-ass annual b-day card with a check where in the memo area it says “medication”, followed by a smiley face configured out of punctuation marks.

You can see there’s definitely no connection, no understanding whatsoever between mother and child – never has been.

“It’s like that guy, with the fish…"

Somewhere between deep pain and acceptance of this inevitability, John’s pensive moment is interrupted by his cousin, who’s crashing at John’s rat hole of an apartment and comes in annoyingly to say “he’s on it” about finding work to help pay for rent, with that sharing his take on networking:
[00:15:30]

“It’s like that guy, with the fish… you know that guy, like he’s hungry, but he doesn’t know how to fish and then the other guy was there, the older guy helping him out … teaching him how to fish,” John finishes the parable.

It’s clear that the fish fable is the central tenet of this film, threaded throughout the story, screaming to us from the screen in the most outwardly disengaging scenes which are oh so loud just beneath the surface.

Let’s spell out what it is we’re subliminally hearing:

I’m starving and I don’t know how to feed myself…
I’m starving for information, knowledge, direction.
I’m starving for connection.
I’m starving for meaning & purpose.

“Happy Birthday"

In a poignant moment, John is sitting in his run-down car, filming himself with a camera he stole earlier this day from a group of midwest fanatics hula-hooping to country folk music on a basketball court in a semi-slum neighborhood of the city. The camera he stole is his birthday present to himself.

Um, I ah, like that guy, with the fish,” John sighs, looking into his camera with a devastation even he is not fully aware of.
[00:46:24]

“Happy Birthday.  Happy Birthday.  Happy Birthday.” he says to himself, looking into the camera with a despondent existential sadness in his eyes.
[1:22:48]

John’s world

We see an unnerving level of descension, purposelessness, deteriorated values, morals and standards in all the characters of this film – they are just surviving in a godforsaken dimension of LOST SOULS… all revolving around John.

This is John’s world… always has been.

John’s cousin is basically another off-course, beaten down kid, who strays away from his so-called ‘home’ to escape the undermining judgement of his parents, who don’t seem to have the first clue about their son’s situation… of course not, he is the extension of their own unresolved search for Identity.

Doing dope and entirely in denial about the reality of his situation, John’s cousin is repeatedly promising to contribute (his share of the rent) and make something of himself – the latter, John makes clear, is not his ax to grind: “Ricky, it’s cool man, I’m not your parents.”
[00:16:13]

John’s ‘girlfriends’, Violet and Mia, are more so members of his survival unit than anything else.

We are first introduced to the girls’ world as they recupe from what is presumably the night before. We see their unkempt apartment, one of them is sleeping it off while the other goes out for some fresh flowers in an attempt at a ‘pick-me-up’. Arriving at the corner store, she responds to the male grocer’s compliments about her looks in a voice saturated with depletion: “today Prashad, I’m just tired.”

The girls eventually reveal the disturbing truth about their journeys to John and his camera. Protectively, even defensively, they open up the fragile underbelly of their tough exterior, divulging the cruel, vulgar and debasing recollections that have painted their life experiences. 

"... didn’t feel like I was human”

Drinking copious amounts of wine mixed with other medicinal substances, the girls get ready for their “event” that night as John films them.  

Mia nonchalantly shares a story from her abusive childhood, where her father kicked her fully pregnant mother to the point of inducing an emergency hospitalization which ended with the baby born dead, and where Mia’s mother in turn took the abuse out on her, in incidents such as the one Mia describes during her shower [00:56:06]:

“When I was growing up, really, I didn’t even feel like… I didn’t feel like I was human.”

“What prompted that?” Violet cajoles Mia to keep talking.

“You know, I was looking out the window and she told me not to look out the window – and she was ironing and… she came over to me and she said, ‘I told you not to look out the window.’ And then I remember this big iron just pushing it towards me.” Mia turns to Violet and makes a sound of scorching metal seering into her skin  “And I don’t remember the pain,” she continues, “I just remember this big, loud scream.”

“A bloodcurdling scream?” Violet tries to validate the trauma of an experience that Mia clearly wants to block out.

“Yeah,” says Mia.

At another point, Mia hints at an incestuous relationsip with her father in the way she alludes to their closeness, but refuses to confirm or deny anything outright:

I’m not discussing that,” she says flat out, when John prompts her to do so. Then she adds in a more excusing tone, “It’s just that I don’t know who’s going to be seeing this stuff.” [1:09:46]

"he loved me, so I left him"

Now it’s Violet’s turn.

The girls are practically ready for their gig, sitting down at the kitchen table, wine glasses in hand and John still taping: 

Violet graphically describes an abhorrent first experience with sex, revealing that not only was it a big deal for her, but also in this particular instance evidences her pattern of emotional escapsim:

“Apparently he really loved me, and he asked me to marry him. So of course I left him immediately for some other guy.” [1:11:07]

It would be a realistic guess that Violet’s coping mechanism is to run from any type of intimacy that bears the risk of her being hurt or rejected – a feeling we can presume she knows all too well. Put another way, the running is a form of protection from anyone getting close enough to see the ugliness, unworthiness and unlovability she actually feels within.

Inside of Violet, lives this pernicious picture of self constructed from the wounds of her past. And this is why her choice of friendship with Mia who in all likelihood is even more damaged, makes total sense.

Between the dismissive giggles and jokes deflecting the sting of dehumanizing first-time sexual encounters, Violet voices aggression towards their circumstances of exploitation and victimization:

“… I think it’s a lot different for guys…  that guy is not feeling your pain.”
[1:12:26]

“God is dead”

At one point, Violet is stunned into facing a moment of truth about her self-degrading life, incited by John’s innocent question regarding her disclosure of the “200 guys” she’s slept with: “Do you know all their names?” [1:16:10]

After a crushing silence, she leaves the room breaking down into tears.

“God is dead and no one cares,” Mia says after Violet walks out.

Connection above all else

The breakdown leads to a cathartic moment of relief for Violet “… to just be myself for a change,” as she puts it standing in the hallway of the apartment with John.

John asks another authentically simple and yet excruciatingly difficult question:  “Who are you usually?
[1:18:50]

Again, Violet is at a loss for words, she just stares at him with disarming honesty.

What follows is an immensely tender moment as the two awkwardly approach each other with naked vulnerability, coming together into a genuinely affectionate embrace… because the desire to connect supersedes all else.

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