In a scene from Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, the themes in Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 classic, Ladri di Biciclete (Bicycle Thieves), become the focal point of discussion between Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) and Daisy (Jessica Harper). Ladri de Biciclete is the story of Antonio Ricci – an unemployed, middle-aged man with a wife and two children – and his fight for survival in a poverty-stricken, post-World War II society. Ricci’s bicycle, which subsequently gets stolen in the middle of his first shift, becomes a working symbol of Ricci’s lifeline, regardless of the object’s short-lived appearance in the film. The longer Ricci goes without this bicycle, the deeper he sinks into poverty.
De Sica’s neo-realist film focuses on the trials and tribulations of this working class man, whose main concerns, understandably, take on a more social aspect (as opposed to the philosophical). Throughout the film, the protagonist’s desperation intensifies as the gravity of his situation increases, weighing heavily on his identity as the sole provider and breadwinner of his family. Ladri de Biciclete’s very foundations lie in Ricci’s growing misfortunes, which, tragically, are never resolved. A dim outlook on life constitutes the end of this film, leaving very little room for any sort of hope or retribution to seep through.
In Stardust Memories, Sandy Bates argues that the film, in spite of its very basic conflicts and social contexts, contains many wonderful nuances and philosophical ambiguities. He purports that in the event our physical survival gets threatened in the most basic sense (for example, steadily shrinking rations in a post-apocalyptic society), our issues become more “clear-cut”, more precise; it will undoubtedly revolve around the wheres and hows of obtaining food and staying alive. Conversely, given the affluence most of us enjoy, our issues become scattered, more abstract and inherently more philosophical in nature. Bates, after discussing his theories with Daisy, states, “…So then your problems become… ’How can I fall in love?’ or… ‘Why can’t I fall in love?’, more accurately… and… um… ‘Why do I age and die and what meaning could my life possibly have?’… You know, the issues become, you know, more complex for you.” To which Daisy replies, “You know, for a guy who makes a lot of funny movies, you are kind of a depressive, you know?”
Seven At One Blow (Too Much Reality is Not what the People Want) is a visual satire of the Seven Deadly Sins. The series draws much of its inspiration from the teleological and existential quandaries Woody Allen brings to the surface in Stardust Memories. Here, the sins take the form of various psychological complexes and emotional responses that stem from most angst-ridden youth and twenty-odd somethings hell-bent on their quest for self-discovery, identity and meaning. There is an overlying theme of decadence in excess and an unspoken desperation that siphons the life out of these youthful beings.
Despite some of the visual clichés, there is a strangely comical twist to the way some of these photographs are paired. Sloth reads very much like a compare-and-contrast – the quiet aftermath of a typical college student’s alcohol-fueled debauchery versus the stylized dispositions of his hipster band counterpart. Lust also takes its cue from Sloth; the left panel depicts a staged, Harlequin Romance-inspired scene of a young couple on the verge of sating their lust, while the bemused, wide-eyed expression on the young man’s face on the opposite panel is suggestive of a Freudian psychosexual complex about to be unleashed.
These narratives reference contemporary youth-driven cultures and countercultures, from hipsterdom to the vastly changing realm of social networking. Seven At One Blow, in essence, is a visual commentary on human mortality from a cynic’s perspective. It touches on the Socratic dictum stating that the unexamined life is not worth living, which, incidentally, also plays on our inherent self-absorption as a species. It is through these dark in-betweens that all forms of modern communication, art, and entertainment are being developed to act as conduits for our misplaced attention. We imbue purpose in our lives to fill an otherwise meaningless existence; and here, purpose gives way to paltry forms of distraction from the teleological predicaments that much of the developed world is privy to.
Seven At One Blow aims to illustrate some of the darker, yet equally powerful themes within the human condition. Much like the finales in the aforementioned films, the series offers no real resolution, providing only, at best, a discomforting perspective not entirely unfamiliar to all. Still, where there is dark, there is also light; one must be open to the terrible truths of existence to really appreciate the life-defining instances that make us better, however rare the occurrence.