How do Amélie and Ikiru glean the meaning of life from within?

Both the films, Amelie and Ikiru, are in essence about individuals. The characters of Amélie Poulain and Kanji Watanabe negotiate and overcome their share of life’s travails. But there is great variation with respect to the nature and complexion of their challenges. Amélie’s life was not as precarious and grave as Watanabe’s was poised toward the end of his life. Hence the standards applied to evaluating their qualities will have to be adjusted accordingly. Watanabe finds himself in an imposing and impossible situation, where he feels betrayed by his family, his work as well as his failing health. Amélie’s issues are that of loneliness and longing for love. Both the protagonists eventually succeed in overcoming the hurdles and finding meaning in their lives. They do so by looking within and unearthing solutions from the depths of their souls. This essay will elaborate on this thesis.

In Amélie, we have a fresh-faced young woman who finds joys in small pleasures of life. Amélie for one never indulged in dreams of grandeur. This character trait was built into her through the circumstances of her childhood. While her mother was neurotic and overbearing, her father was remote and placid. Her parents’ choice of home-schooling for Amélie further depleted the young girl of social life. To maintain sanity in this stifling atmosphere young Amélie resorted to fantasy. Her natural curiosity, coupled with her ample imagination, would take her off on exotic tales of delight. Yet, these tales are not centered on her or are merely pass-time. These early sources of consolations for Amélie are full of innocence and altruism. This streak continues into her adult life, where her behavior and attitude toward others is one of a Good Samaritan – a do-gooder.

In the determination to be a do-gooder, Amélie discovered the meaning of her own life through the happiness of others. On one instance she plays a match-maker, enticing romantic interest between her colleague at the restaurant and a regular customer. On another instance, she hands over to an old man his hidden childhood treasure of assorted memories. Amélie thus manages to touch the lives of so many people through her benevolence and humanity. By making others happy and fulfilled, she realizes the meaning of her own life. In other words, her attitude to finding happiness is far from epicurean.

Amélie’s benevolent character is evident even in her interactions with her neighbors. She tries to understand the personal longings of those living in her apartment block. She then sets about solving their issues through means available to her. Amélie finds the meaning of her life through this method. In this respect, there is a trace of humanism articulated by Erich Fromm. Of greater import is how she herself finds her love, in the form of reconnecting with her childhood sweetheart. Amélie thus finds great all-round contentment in her life.

Far removed from the particular conditions of Amélie is Wanatabe, who is dying of stomach cancer. But for a major part of his life he was no more than a boring and bored bureaucrat. The great irony of Watanabe’s life is the fact that he begins to appreciate being alive only when confronted by death. The savings he had accumulated over a lifetime of submitting to mindless drudgery is nearly a burden toward the end of his life. Having been disappointed by his son’s lack of gratitude and respect, Wanatabe seeks to fill the final days of his life by indulging in luxury. But he feels ashamed that he is both uncomfortable and unaccustomed to this epicurean emphasis on pleasure. Watanabe’s late tryst with wine, women and fine dining proves to be merely a distraction from his brooding thoughts.

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