Smart People: A Rubric for knowing when to let go and move on


At this juncture I'll refer to the film 'Smart People' where middle-aged, self-absorbed widower Professor Wetherhold is divorced from his cycle of grief by drinking oblivion, imagining 'salad days' that never really existed. He wallows in intellectual rumination on a lotus leaf that has already sailed, trapping him in a direction of self-delusion which he can't confront and is in denial of. Even his successful publishing record is questioned in his much self-vaunted book 'You can't read' which is always clever but is ultimately as doomed an intellectual escape as his alcoholically induced memory of life with his now dead wife. We watch him being unaware of his own metaphorical 'outer-body experience' of being unable to arrest his decline into the cold, dark and pointless pretentious verbiage that's full of pathos and bathos too. He reclines in his own 'intellectual superiority' and is ignorant of his homage to literary sublimation of personal trauma that he can't and won't observe as barely nursed by his avoidance by academic indulgence. He's emotionally unable to allow himself to move-on, and he's marooned as a lecturer whose performance is dry and passionless in the despair-code of grief without closure.

His joyless pride seems irredeemable until an ex-student and now Head of Emergency Hospital Medicine tries to square both her anger and resentment of him for ruining her once literary aspiration with her student crush on him. Her student crush has allowed him to crush something sacred to her by his poor judgement rather than her literary potential. She is indeed endowed with the 'smarts' of a good mind too but is she ready to be his intellectual equal on his terms when he needs so much work to catapult him back into life? He's become the anti-social embodiment of purposeless pomposity held together by intellectual egotistical sticky-tape and plasters! Reviving him may be beyond her powers. She fights to not be over-judgemental and not to be left re-evaluating him but guess what happens? She is caught in a similar dead-end as he is: the trap of lamenting over her student naivety that perhaps didn't actually exist in the way she imagines it?! Smart people should be the first to comprehend life – but not here! These are smart people failing! Of course he discovers her complexity and she becomes pregnant with the 'off-spring' of their combative conversations and wariness from mutual miscommunication. Finally when twins are born Professor Wetherhold is transformed and interested and interesting beyond his recycle and re-boot circular life conversation and its self-obsession. It is only when he realizes that his over-achieving but precociously disdainful daughter is unhappy that he removes the source of pain that has made her a conformist devoid of individual fun and laughter – which is himself. As an unhappy role model for her, she is socially uncompromisingly elitist and absents herself from social and personal growth. This internalisation as illustrated by contrast with the rebel brother and the adopted brother/uncle who are passionate and individualist. But it takes Dr. Hardigan to reveal the Weatherhold family's dysfunctionality and eventually the true value and evidence of life emerges: you can either be angry and hostile, nurturing hurts and wounds or you can just move-on.

So why would you want to relive the past of anger, hatred and belligerence when life contracts and stunts all positivity? What are up-grades or redevelopments but reminders of faces of the past that are screaming at you to just let it go! Adapt, accept and cherish! There's no ideological terrestrial paradise then of hard left or right. Arrest your allegiances and commit, communicate and contribute; democracy and capitalism are flawed but it's the best we've got!

© 2020 Stephen Hornsby-Smith

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