For me, filmmaker Woody Allen is one of the few who wonderfully merges the light-hearted and the heavy side of life. His witty characters, often a projection of Allen himself, are always searching for something in life. What am I doing here? What is my goal? Where am I supposed to go? They follow a clumsy quest and want enlightening answers to big questions. Think of Mickey, one of the dreamy and neurotic characters in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). During one of his detours through New York, he comes to the conclusion that the ancient Greeks, Nietzsche and also Freud have given him little to nothing. Even Christianity does not give him enough to hold on to. Perhaps the Hare Krishna can be of any help? No, that’s not it for him either and Mickey restlessly continues his search.
Everyone has a kind of Mickey in him. It is also good to respond to a certain extent to these kinds of big questions that may overwhelm you at times. These questions manifest themselves unsurprisingly in phases of your life when important choices can be made, during a student life for example. In this phase the freedom to decide what to do can be liberating and oppressive at the same time.
As an academic advisor I sometimes talk about these matters with students. For instance about their study choices or that students have no idea what to do after their Masters. Or about the changing perspective they encounter as a result of personal circumstances or the loss of a family member for example. Then life becomes bumpy and a student can get stuck in what he or she wants to do next. That’s when questions arise. Lots of questions. Big questions. Abstract questions. But above all, very legitimate questions.
Speaking those thoughts out loud can then be liberating. Unexpectedly, it can give a clear overview. Of course, one may have this kind of conversation with his surroundings as well, but it also happens regularly that these topics come up during a conversation with someone from the university: psychological counsellors, student counsellors and academic advisors. It can be a good starting point to take another step forward.
The beauty of Woody Allen’s films is that they – with a wink – show that having these kinds of questions is quite normal. Everyone sometimes wonders what we are actually doing here. These existential questions about life are common. And they do not necessarily have to overwhelm you. On the contrary, questions like these can also provide you with creative insights. They stimulate your interests and set you in motion. Conversations about these kinds of topics are valuable not only to a student, but certainly to a counsellor as well. They can be surprising and enriching. Sometimes emotional and sometimes light-hearted. And occasionally there is even room to carefully exchange a book or movie title to each other. Try some films of Woody Allen I would then say.