Morality differences in “Trust” and “The Stranger”

When we watched the film, “Trust” after reading Camus’ “The Stranger”, I think myself and a lot of my peers were probably struck by many of the parallels that seemed to exist between the book and the film. After all, the movie has a very mundane and depressing tone for a lot of its duration, just like “The Stranger”, where lot of events seem to happen that would be best explained through an absurdist world devoid of meaning. For example, at the beginning of the movie, Maria’s dad just suddenly collapses and dies. It is explained as a result of many problems her dad had, but it is presented in the movie as a totally inexplicable, random event that happens to occur at just the right moment for Maria’s mother to unleash all of her wrath onto Marie. The whole film takes on a gray, monotonous sort of feeling while details like Matthew having a grenade and a baby being kidnapped seem to be presented rather bluntly; there are things that just happen or exist and are portrayed in a rather straight forward way not unlike moments in “The Stranger” where domestic violence and murder are also described as something that just sort of happens and is experienced by Meursault; not in a particularly emotional way, just as a reality of the absurd world he lives in.

Despite these similarities, an interesting difference I saw between the two, especially towards the end of “Trust”, comes in the form of how some of the morals or ethics shown in both. Something I found striking is that although Matthew is a very smart guy and can fix all kinds of electronics, part of the reason he keeps quitting/has difficulty coming to terms with his job is because he sees it as unethical. The company he works for makes defective products so that they will get clients to come back and pay for them to be fixed. The company wants Matthew to keep his head down and just do his job, but it becomes clear that Matthew feels strongly against this so much that he keeps quitting. When reflecting about this moment I thought this showed an interesting divergence from “The Stranger”. If this were Meursault’s job, in my opinion, Meursault would absolutely not care if he was scamming people or not. We see that Meursault barely has a moral pulse throughout the entire book, for example when writing the letter for Raymond or when murdering someone.

In contrast, in “Trust”, the movie actually ends with Matthew and Marie sharing a genuine moment at the computer-repair shop where their love for each other is evident and Marie saves Matthew from his own suicide attempt. Marie and Matthew don’t really have much in terms of power or money to gain by loving one another, but over the course of the movie they seem to find that they really do genuinely love and understand one another. Meursault doesn’t really ever feel that emotional towards other characters, usually valuing people in a more materialist sense. While the movie ends in uncertainty for Marie and Matthew, it is clear that they have broken through the mundane world with their genuine emotions for one another, creating a world between the two of them that is dynamic enough to dispel any ideas about an absurdist existence. Ultimately, one story features a man arrested, contended, and alone on death row with another also arrested but clearly discontented and wanting to be with Marie. Despite many of the apparent similarities between the novel and the film, “real”, emotional, love is responsible for revealing some very stark differences between “Trust” and “The Stranger”.

Identity and “The Secret Woman”

When analyzing “The Secret Woman” in class, I thought that another student made an interesting remark regarding the masquerade as featured in the story. Essentially, by covering up one’s true identity, someone potentially unmasks another.

At its heart, masks do present a lot of challenge to us as humans. We are so used to actively perceiving and analyzing facial features and expressions that when we are met with something close to but not quite the same as the real thing, such as a mask, we are met with confusion and uncertainty. It is not so abstract as to mask the presence of a human being, but it is abstract enough to mask any emotions or expressions. Under this vale of uncertainty, “The Secret Woman” suggests people may stray from their common behaviors. When together, the couple seems to appear relatively mundane about their lives and their view on attending this ball. Under the vale of the mask, however, the wife seems to act wildly and energetically, as she bounces around the party. Under another mask, the husband stalks his wife, watching her activities.

Ultimately, I don’t think that “The Secret Woman” is supposed to be about the faithfulness of one partner to another but is meant to show the natural feelings that people will have when not bound by societal or cultural expectations. The wife still loves her husband, but she has a more daring and youthful side that she would keep to herself if it weren’t for an opportunity like this. I think this can apply to us a lot when we meet new people, are in public spaces with many strangers around, or are online. In these situations, people either don’t have context about you or cannot access it whether it be because of a literal or metaphorical mask. How do we let unfamiliarity or uncertainty impact the way we confront and behave in front of others? How does a mask change our character?

Humanity in Spiderhead

George Saunder’s “Escape from Spiderhead” has many compelling components from its intensely vivid descriptions to its unsettling dystopian setting. While there are many interesting details and descriptions throughout, the story ultimately seems to circle back to a question surrounding the humanity, or the lack thereof in human beings. Surrounding the raw drama and violence of the story are the drugs that are used to influence the convicts’ actions. Clearly, the use of the drugs is the primary fictitious element of the story, meant to signify a jump in technology that has not yet been reached. At least to myself, but I suspect most readers, the drugs are seen as an unknown futuristic substance that have influence and reach well beyond any current technology; the subjects behave and react in bizarre ways while we imagine how we might possibly react to such an unreal substance. However, while reflecting on the story, I began to question how much of a stretch component the drugs really are.

After all, as human beings, we are not robots and we don’t make decisions based off of an objective programming; we are organic beings with complex minds and our minds are heavily influenced by already naturally occurring chemicals, hormones, etc. Especially when we are more emotional, we may feel that we aren’t even thinking but rather acting on impulse, impulse associated with instinct rather than logical thinking. Basically, our minds are already under the constant influence of natural drugs that will largely steer our mentality. The most profound moments in one’s life can probably be framed within an achievement, a relationship, a tragedy, a struggle. Those sorts of moments might often have that sort of dreamy, unreal feeling because our body and mind have already determined how we will act; we are programmed to react a certain way to love, friendship, adversary, sadness. Even our morals and ethics that we lay our actions on our often determined by the experiences we have as babies and children, long before we begin to think critically about the world. The dystopian reality where humanity’s free will and intellect can be easily hijacked with chemicals and technology may be less sci-fi and more like a minor extension of reality because we may have never really possessed that perceived free will in the first place. If we are already highly emotionally creatures, constantly being influenced by signals out of our control, then is it that much of a stretch to see the effectiveness of these sorts of drugs? Ultimately, much humanity do we really possess? The answer to a question like this is subjective and difficult to determine, but Saunders does end the story hinting that humanity does exist. Despite his alienization, dehumanization, and total influence under the drugs, the narrator seems to be able to act according to his own will, ultimately coming to terms with himself as he dies, swearing to never kill again. His action represents a change in his personal mentality, a strong demonstration of morality, and comes on his own terms, signifying a decision that is about as independent and humanizing as an action can be.