Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Did you think you were unique, Mr. Angier?"

I feel as though it's a bit late for me to be posting, but I won't be sleeping otherwise. I've just returned to my room from one of the Clark University Film Society (CUFS) screenings. This week we showed The Prestige, which I highly recommend.

The Prestige, though entertaining and definitely a good use of my evening, did get me thinking about a class from earlier today. We spent most of our time in Holocaust: Agency & Action hearing about/discussing the Jews' escape efforts and hiding experiences around 1942. It was a continuation of stories from the previous lecture, and the professor (Deb√≥rah Dwork) ended the lecture a few minutes early. Instead of having us leave, she reiterated the importance of identity in this (the Holocaust) scenario. My mind drifted back to a previously assigned reading which discussed Jewish children's exclusion from schools as new laws banning Jews from certain areas came into effect (as an example that I can actually remember the name of: the Nuremberg Laws of 1935). Prior to this, Jewish children had never really had a reason to question their identities. And now, as they were removed from schools, they were forced to decide: how did they view themselves, and in contrast, how did others view them? What was different about the children that caused them to be excluded?

Prof. Dwork ended the lecture with a question on a similar note: how do we (the students) identify ourselves? She asked us to decide then, with seven minutes remaining in class, which three traits we would use to state our identities. No one seemed sure how to answer, so she passed it on as a homework assignment and told us to have our three by Tuesday.

The Prestige was certainly not any more about identity than any other film - surely all films must relate to this concept if they focus on a human being - but one character experienced (SPOILERS) a sort of death/rebirth process each of the one hundred times that he performed a certain magic trick. In summary, he used a machine created by Tesla in order to achieve this trick; the machine would clone him and transport the clone a certain distance away. However, the original person would be killed in each instance. The clone would continue living in his place until the trick occurred again, when a new clone would be born, and the older clone killed.

It was this that made me think more about identity. The clone looked the same, but many aspects would theoretically be missing; experiences, and memories. For argument's sake I won't follow what the movie implies in that the character's experiences/memories/knowledge were indeed passed along to the clone, but will assume instead that the clone only maintains the genetic make-up of the original. Because without experiences or memories or feelings, most of my identity would be gone. I would be made up of mostly facts, and of barely nothing more.

In this way, I am having trouble discerning which three words I would like to use to define my identity. "Feminist", "Jewish", and "female" all come to mind, as do adjectives, such as "compassionate" and "timid", but I cannot decide which three words hold the most power in defining who I am. I'd like to think more about this, and find words that encompass my experiences and feelings and adjectives. I don't even know how to begin to define myself in a way that will make me have my own identity, as opposed to an identity that is eerily similar to many others.

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