“Sometimes, I wish God would just reach down and give the world a big old shake, you know?”
One day. One family. And it all gets shaken up a bit. Evan Oppenheimer’s The Magnificent Meyersons is a peripatetic search for understanding what it means to live in a world that may or may not have a god, in which right and wrong may or may not be relative, in which the future and the past may or may not hold the answers. And it’s a comedy (sort of).
We wander through the streets of New York along with four upper middle class adult siblings: Daphne (Jackie Burns), the older daughter, who is struggling with not being quite fulfilled as a mother, wife, or at work; Roland (Ian Kahn), the older son, who is a confident businessman, but perhaps a bit overprotective of his daughter; Daniel (Daniel Eric Gold), the younger son, a rabbinical student who may or may not have faith; and Susie (Shoshannah Stern), the younger daughter, who is deaf and seeking to make her way as a realtor. There are also interludes involving their mother (Kate Mulgrew) and memories of their absent father (Richard Kind).
Note that the term “peripatetic” means to walk around, to wander. As the day progresses, each of the siblings sit or stroll through the city talking to friends or family about any variety of things. The subjects are just as wandering as the people in the film: the existence of God, what makes man [sic] unique among the animals, what it means to be successful, what makes us happy, and if the past can be forgiven.
There is a philosophical bent to this film similar to what is found in the biblical book Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes, the author (often referred to as Qoheleth) ponders the meaning of life and what makes life worth living. Qoheleth is also a bit peripatetic. He wanders through various approaches in search of the answers to his questions. The four siblings, along with the parents to a lesser extent, all have different understandings of life. The film and all the talking are not so much about finding the answers as it is about all the questions. That too is a bit like Ecclesiastes.
Because the discussions are so diverse, there are many interesting things said along the way. There is an ontological proof of God set side by side with an ontological disproof. At another point, Roland says, “You know what makes man unique? He’s the only animal who can’t take care of himself.” When Daphne admits to being “selfish, vain, and lazy”, her husband concurs, and adds, “like everybody else”. Perhaps the deepest wisdom expressed is “Everything matters”.
The theme line of Ecclesiastes is “Vanity of vanities! All is Vanity.” That refers to the ephemeral nature of life. That concept is also central to the musings of the characters in The Magnificent Meyersons. As they all try in their own way to deal with the life, there is an understanding that things are constantly changing. But how we deal with all those changes can open new ways for us to live in vain lives.
The Magnificent Meyerson is playing in limited theatrical release and on virtual cinema.
Photos courtesy of Argot Pictures.