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“Nothing’s OK so it’s OK”: I Heart Huckabees

The philosophy of Existentialism has long been associated with a preoccupation with what it really means to be an exist as an “I” within a society. The philosophy is often associated with what many consider an academic conundrum that leaves the individual full of questions of being forever searching for answers that may not exist. Or, as the protagonist Albert does in David O. Russell’s 2004 comedy I Heart Huckabees, hire a team of Existential Detectives to figure it out for you (Russell).

This satire of existentialist inquiry is the latest in a series. According to Steven Crowell’s essay “Existentialism” appearing in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy “by the mid 1970s the cultural image of existentialism had become a cliche, parodied in countless books and films by Woody Allen” (Crowell, 1). Russell’s film is a fast-moving farce that provides an amusing combination of setting, characters, and relationships in a modern-day search for meaning in life. Russell chooses post-911 New York City for his setting.

This is a perfect choice for a variety of reasons, all woven into a pattern ideal for existential musings. New York City is the icon for the idea of the individual seeking meaning within the mass of society. NYC is often portrayed as the home of quirky characters and their even stranger relationships. The city is the natural home for one of the namesake character, Huckabees, a giant retailer, as well as the angst and issue-filled human characters including an Albert, an environmental activist, Brad the ad executive, and Tommy, an NYFD firefighter.

All three have retained the Existential Detectives to explain their lives. Each of the three characters has no shortage of issues. Albert is smarting from his “success” of saving nothing more than a large boulder from Huckabees’ previously natural land acquisition and is busted from his activist group because of his new affiliation with Huckabees. Brad has issues with his girlfriend and his position with Huckabees.

Tommy also has issues with his wife and friends he lost at The World Trade Center. The husband and wife Existential Detectives have issues with a former protege, a “self-help” guru. Everyone seems to have issues with their relationships with others and their relationship with others. The relationships between these characters are connected by their association with the Existential Detectives who contractually have complete access to everything and every action in their clients’ lives.

Each is given a healthy dose of the Detectives’ philosophy: “everything is the same, only different”, “everything you want or want to be you already have or are” and “nothing’s OK, so it’s OK. ” Each then embarks on their search for identity and meaning through analysis of the strange relationships they find themselves in. The result is an engrossing and hilarious study of the individuals’ search for meaning as well as how each adds meaning to the others’ lives.

Huckabees takes on Crowell’s statement that “’existentialism’” may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to grasp human existence” with a passion (Crowell, 2). Russell’s ‘categories’ are authentically hilarious, from finding a copy of Kafka in the trash to Tommy and Albert whacking each other in the face with a child’s large sit-in-it-and-bounce ball to “stop thinking” and therefore “cross over to the other side” (Russell).

Russell is to be admired for heaping one sight-gag and parody on top of another without overkill or boredom. A natural reaction is to want to rewind the movie to see what was missed, as some scenes make sense only with later revelation and context. A perfect example of this is Albert’s search for the Existential Detectives’ office. He has an extremely difficult time finding their office, and seems to be walking in circles for a very long time, a hilarious reflection of some existential if not other philosophical trains of thought.

Albert wants the Detectives to determine the coincidence of seeing “this tall African guy” three times in one day and describes the coincidence of finding the Detectives’ card in a borrowed jacket. According to New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis Huckabees “in its passion, energy and go-for-broke daring, in its faith in the possibility of human connection (if not its probability), Mr. Russell’s film provides its own reason for hope” (Dargis, 1).

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