5 recommendations for the existentialist
Carlos Basurto | Thursday, April 27, 2023
As classes at long last come to an end, and finals loom on the horizon, plenty of students have begun to show signs of exhaustion from their long-lasting struggle against the never-ending barrage of work. Under these circumstances, it is only natural for a particular sense of overthinking to arise within us. Given this, and the fact that this is my last column for the semester, I opted to go for something unconventional: a list of recommendations of fictional media.
This list is dedicated to those whose conditions have made them reconsider certain aspects about themselves or their journey, and, in the midst of perpetual confusion, the desire to find respite somewhere. Fiction can become a tool for much more than we give it credit for — they may be guides, warnings or something completely new. In all of these stories, I’d argue a bit of philosophy can be found.
Thus, I offer this to you. Some items in the following list are extremely popular (this being your ultimate wakeup call if you have not consumed them yet) while others may not be so, and I believe they are worth the attention. They all hold a special place in my heart, and just maybe, they might in yours too. I will discuss not the plot, but rather, a glimpse into their themes.
Without further ado, here are five recommendations in five different mediums for the existentialist.
”Neon Genesis Evangelion”
If I could choose simply one piece of art to be watched by all, it would be Hideaki Anno’s 1996 masterpiece alongside its feature film finale. In its depiction of the intricacies of human connection, transition into adulthood and escapism, this show does not pull its punches. Rarely does one obtain such a nuanced and genuine depiction of the struggles of searching for identity that captures all of the gritty and murky details of life while simultaneously being a beautiful testament to the value of moving on despite it all. This show not only redefined its genre, but the very medium of animation with its experimental visuals, character arcs and thematic evolutions. Though it may seemingly have a slow start and present great friction in its plot, the latter events may make one wish to return. Yet, whether one wants to or not, life must go on. Even if you hate this show, you will take something out of it. Is that not the goal of art?
“Better Call Saul”
Prequels rarely hold a flame when opposed to the original work, but “Better Call Saul” can more than easily stand on its own two feet against “Breaking Bad.” Of course, “Breaking Bad” is a required viewing so as to obtain the full experience. However, Vince Gilligan was granted the ability to take many more creative liberties — allowing him to tell a much deeper, richer and mature tale about evil posed as a result of nature and nurture alike. Unlike its predecessor, this show does not expose the dark sides of a monster, but seeks the opposite conflict: a good and kind soul pushed to its limits and coerced by its surroundings into corruption. The show routinely confronts the viewer with whether the events that ensue are justified. Where does one draw the line? Where is the justice? Only we can decide when uncovering that which has already been set in stone.
Bo Burnham’s Netflix magnum opus is clearly the result of a particularly painful series of events over the pandemic, yet it is one of the most expressive, exhilarating, hilarious yet haunting experiences one can witness in visual media. Truly a work of passion and of desperation, Burnham strips down his identity through comedy as a cry for help that is equally crushing and uplifting. This vanguardist, ultimate one-man show forces the audience to reconsider their relationship with technology, popular culture, interpersonal approaches and, above all else, the inherent solitude of the self that tears one apart when trapped inside. Yet, even if you could go outside, would that really solve the issue at hand?
“No Longer Human”
Osamu Dazai’s novel proved to be one of the most important works of literature not just for Japan, but for the world. This is by far the darkest recommendation in this list (which is saying a lot), but it functions as a grand foreboding warning for the importance of maintaining our humanity while recognizing its temporary qualities. That is to say, what makes one human? Not merely in terms of identity, but in terms of the truest of natures — how can one even hold on to such a concept? This is a tragedy upon a tragedy and truly one of the saddest reads I have ever experienced, yet it still felt supremely important that I went through it. If there is a light, there must be a shadow. Yet, the inverse also happens to be true.
This is a slight exception to the rule for this is not necessarily a work of fiction, but rather, a video essayist who — through a series of dark, satire-ridden stories — has repeatedly emphasized humanity’s inherent beauty and unbounded allure of the universe juxtaposed with the cynicism of the foolish and the absurdist demeanor of existence. His videos can be found on YouTube, and there is rarely the occasion when I can confidently say nearly all of the videos of a creator are a must-watch, but he matches this criteria perfectly. Simply open his channel and select the title that jumps out the most to you (my personal favorite to start with is “You Will Never Do Anything Remarkable,” but maybe you will be enticed more by “so you want to build a nuke” or “Upsilon Dies Backwards”). Extremely well-versed in anything from philosophy to history to physics, his videos have the capability of rekindling one’s faith in humanity.
Carlos A. Basurto is a first-year at Notre Dame ready to delve into his philosophy major with the hopes of adding the burden of a Computer Science major on top of that. When not busy you can find him consuming yet another 3+ hour-long analysis video of a show he has yet to watch or masochistically completing every achievement from a variety of video games. Now with the power to channel his least insane ideas, feel free to talk about them via email at [email protected] (he is, tragically, very fond of speaking further about anything at all).
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.