Every age, century, decade, year, and moment is accounted for and documented by the self as long as it is conscious. In this lonely consciousness, the self derives from the concept of anxiety as a marker of sanity—a person marks themself on the basis of conflict in their minds and goes ahead to justify their perception of who they are and how sane their thought is. The more coiled your being, the more complex your documentation of the episode is. When characters in a plot are put into groups, the one that identifies most with a real, functional being is a round type character because their identity is affected by internal and external factors.
According to popular belief during the twentieth-century surrealist movement, anxiety existed in a sphere outside of the self. It was an external distraction which disturbed the inner workings of the mind. The liberation and catharsis of the unconscious part of the mind ruled the cultural zeitgeist of that time. Upon careful study of the mind, psychologists were able to decipher the root of anxiety, and ironically it resided in the complication and conflict of the self.
Luis Bunuel wrote and directed a 1962 surrealist film called The Exterminating Angel in which the guests at a formal dinner party can’t seem to be able to leave the premises of the host’s house due to some unfathomable reason. It’s a quintessential commentary on the state of human loneliness and the inability to walk out of a room that causes the problem. In 2015, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson directed a tragicomedy movie about the human condition which involved the use of puppets called Anomalisa. The protagonist in this specific movie suffers from Fregoli Delusion or Fregoli syndrome in which the person in question meets people but can’t seem to understand the uniqueness of their faces and attributes one face to all individuals. Both of these movies grapple with collective anxieties.
Collective anxieties differ circumstantially. In Bunuel’s case, anxiety is trapped in the setting and in Kaufman and Johnson’s, it is trapped inside the single mind of a person. Both the movies exhibit the idea of translating the confusion in a given “boundary”— the set of the movie and the head of the protagonist. Collective anxiety is like the plants in a cemetery; they flourish when we bury the dead. It adds incessantly to a given situation. The reason behind introducing these two movies is to create a spectrum out of extremes that are the connections within the mind and strained ones amongst people.
There comes a time in life, or in fact, this time comes multiple times when people are stuck in a spiral of miseries. For me, it was an amalgamation of familial disturbances, academic pressure, and personal life hindrances. That moment in time felt like it was growing as a parallel to what Charlie Kauffman wanted to portray in Anomalisa. A personal hindrance which sucked me in forced me to look at the world as if it was a replication of one thing. Everything seemed to me like it was bleak and couldn’t breathe; a reflection of my own condition. During such times, activities like leaving the room, interacting with people, eating or evolving emotionally seemed questionable. The question here comes up: why do I devolve here? What is it about this certain situation that I can’t seem to get up from the chair and live my life? Freud would’ve brushed it off by saying you’re fixated. But, are you really fixated or is anxiety playing checkers with you?
What got me through this period in my life where everything I saw looked like an object in a surrealistic artwork was a lot of therapy in which I worked on self-analysis and definition. The way my therapist figured it, the world was only a sum of the parts of me that I saw it through. Tasks like ‘write ten adjectives for how you see yourself in a relationship’ really cleared the air for me.
When surrealism was introduced to the community it was taken as an expression of what the artist felt was wrong mixed with the liquidity of canvas paints. When it seeped into cinema it grew as an expression because of its high relatability quotient. I personally have felt the burden of collective anxiety and it feels like someone has left the door unlocked and yet you can’t imagine getting out of the room. The movies stated above aren’t exemplary of the state of anxiety, they’re only suggestive of conflict. If anxiety did grow in a black and white background it might be easy to eliminate it but it doesn’t. So we ought to grow with it like a fragile house plant in a dimly lit room.
When Ursula K Le Guin wrote Always Coming Home, it was supposed to be about great celestial conquests that humankind is undertaking but also about smaller achievements. If you look closely the poem creates a symbol of resting and trekking the great unknown forest of being. This is the greatest anxiety of all, what lies ahead? Not only afterlife but after every day and moment of human endeavor. There is no one objective solution to this query. It is so deeply subjected to interpretation that it is bereft of collective meaning and only cradles in the lap of individual understanding. What we can do is hold on to the hope of a less insignificant tomorrow or the acceptance of our minute being in this vast expanse of the universe.