I watched “The French Dispatch” at the end of Halloweek, following a string of disappointing parties. I spent my mornings figuring out where to go at night; once night came,my friends and I hurried from place to place. I was surprised, therefore, to find myself departing Criterion Cinema in a state of somber elation on an ashen Saturday afternoon. I was not rushing anywhere, my steps slow and full of feeling.
An elegy to journalism, “The French Dispatch” is a mosaic of beautiful stories. Typical of Wes Anderson, the movie is populated with eccentric characters who are full of self-contradictions. I was most struck by the passion the characters had for their craft. Amidst prison sentences, student quarrels, revolutions and police chases, Anderson always takes care to zoom into the artists and their art. As Moses picks up his brush, as Zeffirelli lays down another chess piece, as the Chef Nescaffier begins to cook, Anderson shows us what it means to truly love doing something. This visceral proximity implicates us in their craft. Suddenly, we too want to possess the sublimity between the person and their passion — one of my friends started learning chess after seeing the movie.
It occurred to me that I haven’t felt like this in a long time. I like my classes and extracurriculars, but I seem to be busy all the time — almost too busy to feel anything. Perhaps the form of our lives is not so conducive to passion: there is a necessity to schedule everything two weeks in advance, there is a lack of idleness and spontaneity, there is an urge to ration rest and recreation and there is always, always more catching up to do. In between these things, our passion is deferred, delayed, performed and perfected into a line on a resume. For the modern college student, their passion can no longer exist for itself.
I am not saying that no one is passionate anymore: of course we still love the things we do. It’s just that our feelings towards things themselves take a backseat when we are so busy trying to make things happen. All Yalies contain multitudes, which is both a blessing and a curse. Perhaps there simply isn’t time to truly dedicate ourselves to our interests when it is so tempting to spread ourselves thin.
Go to any club website and read a Yalie’s bio: you would wonder how they manage to do everything, and somehow you would want to do those things too. Whether socially or academically, the fear of missing out is universal. That’s because “the college experience” is a prepackaged promise of universality: we are scared of missing out on the things we think we should do. But these experiences are abstract and belong to no one in particular: by placing them before ourselves, we inevitably displace our own desire. But we cannot simply get over the fear of missing out: the very fact that we live in a community means that how other people feel affects the way we feel. In this conundrum, we turn to our academic and extracurricular interests: they help ground us, and they remind us of who we are.
And so it struck me that “The French Dispatch” was not really about passion: rather, it is about displaced desires, unfulfilled wants and what happens when we don’t understand ourselves. Moses the artist remains despondent and uninspired despite his talent; Zeffirelli and Juliette argue about politics to distract themselves from their feelings for each other. This is precisely why college feels like chaos: the gravitas of our passion is meant to coexist with personal frustrations and self-contradictions at this point in our lives. In between our creative process and political thought, our hobbies and professional aspirations, our friendships and social networks, there is a distance between the things we do and what we actually want from our lives.
If the movie is any indication, this distance might never disappear. But there are beautiful moments when things finally fall into place: the chef unexpectedly discovers a new taste, the students finally fall in love and the journalists compose together line by line. For the characters, new self-knowledge always came from escape, confinement, arguments and all sorts of crevices and corners. With the four years we have here, we should seek the crevices that teach us how to want. But in order to learn about ourselves, we must first allow ourselves to feel and think about what and why we feel. After all, our college years should feel like the start of something.
JEAN WANG is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.