Ingrid and I were watching Bonnie and Clyde tonight, which she had never seen and I hadn’t seen in years. It struck me, watching it again, that, despite all the violence, in some ways it’s a very Zen movie. And it occurred to me that there’s a similar Zen quality to lots of outlaw movies. Especially “outlaws on the run” movies. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Thelma & Louise.
There’s a particular scene that especially made me think this: a scene late-ish in the movie, when it’s become clear that the law is going to catch up with them. Bonnie says something to Clyde about how at first she thought they were going somewhere, she thought they had some destination… but now she realized that all they were ever going to do was run. She didn’t say “run until we die,” but that was the clear implication. A lot of “outlaws on the run” movies have a similar vibe, a similar moment in the story where the audience realizes (even if the characters don’t) that the outlaws aren’t going to make it: the law is closing in on them, and they’re doomed.
And it struck me that this is sort of a secular Zen metaphor for life. Ultimately, none of us is going anywhere. Ultimately, we have no destination. Ultimately, the law is going to catch up with us. If we’re not bank robbers, it probably won’t be cops with machine guns who are catching up with us: it’ll just be the law of entropy, and the laws of biology. But the law is closing in on us. Ultimately, we’re all just running. And running is all we have.
It’s sort of like that koan about the man and the tigers and the strawberry. The one where the man is running from a tiger, trying to escape, and grabs onto a vine and jumps off a cliff. But another tiger is at the bottom of the cliff, waiting to eat him. Two mice start chewing on the vine. Then the man sees a strawberry, plucks it, and eats it. How sweet it tasted.
Not sure where I’m going with this. Nowhere, I guess. Good movie, though. And the strawberries sure are sweet.