“No one sits like this rock sits
You rock, rock.”
Those were the immortal words of environmentalist poet Albert Markovski, played by a young Jason Schwartzman, in the opening scene of the 2004 film , I ♥ Huckabees. After a profanity-laced introduction, Albert emerges from behind a tree to stand next to a large rock, cordoned off with caution tape, a singular success for Albert against the constant expansion of Huckabees, “The Everything Store.”
Geological formations are born when the violent elements of the earth settle into a recognizable shape and size. Creation in its most static state is a rock. Living things, however, exude dynamic forces; forces that often collide into conflict and suffering, or, in Albert’s case, a coincidence.
To solve his coincidence, Albert reaches out to two existential detectives (played with aplomb by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin), but his efforts at deconstructing reality to fit his coincidence – not to mention a bedrock of mistruths Albert fed to the detectives – leads Albert further into a miasma of insanity and delusion.
Is there really a beautiful French philosopher stalking him or is it just a part of his delusion? And what’s up with the African guy?
Foils and friends join the fray, in the walking corporate mannequin and Shania Twain-obsessed storyteller Brad Stand (Jude Law), anti-petroleum fire fighter Tommy Corn (Mark Wahlberg) and “face” of Huckabees Dawn Campbell (Naomi Watts). Each of these characters confront their own existential epiphany, but none as dramatic or destructive as Albert.
Early in the film, Albert and Tommy track down the African guy, Stephen (Ger Duany), at his adopted parent’s house and joins them for dinner. A most uncomfortable and aggressive dinner conversation follows with Albert exhaustingly exclaiming, “I’m talking about not covering every square inch of populated America with houses and strip malls until you can’t even remember what happens when you stand in a meadow at dusk!”
When his maybe make-believe French philosopher makes a bee line for his parent’s condo, Albert rushes to protest. But it is Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) who finally solves Albert’s coincidence. Not by ascribing everything to “blanket” generalizations or pseudo-therapy, but very specific cause and effect.
The film then pivots to Tommy and Albert’s attempts to achieve Pure Being, a state of nirvana as prescribed by Vauban’s nihilistic philosophy, by repeatedly hitting themselves in the head with a large pink ball.
“You stop thinking,” says Albert, a metaphysical light bulb turning on above his head. “It’s like I’m a rock or a dish of mold.”
“It’s the answer!” raps Marky Mark. “We just have to do the ball thing all day, every day.” “Don’t call it the “ball thing,” chides Caterine Vauban.
It’s here that Albert’s upward trajectory towards enlightenment takes a dark turn. Caterine and Albert escape Tommy’s company to enter the woods where Albert falls to the ground and embraces the mud and the muck of existence. He grabs fistfuls of the stuff and rubs it on Catherine’s legs and then they take turns dunking each other’s heads into the muddy water. And then they follow that up with what we can only assume is unprotected, and decidedly unsanitary, sex.
Unlike the first Die Hard movie, I ♥ Huckabees isn’t really concerned about identity, as much as it wants to ask the big questions about existence and infinity. But existentialism, at its core, is a study of the individual and his reaction to existence. Does Albert just sit and watch things happen like the rock he admires so much or does he take action to advance his cause?
As head of the Open Spaces coalition, his stated goal as (probably) mentioned in the charter (that he wrote) is to preserve the environment in the face of rampant corporate overreach. Suburbs, exurbs, multi-purpose live/work/play shopping centers and mini-malls. Where does it end?
So why does Albert go to Brad Stand, of all people, a corporate stand in and part time tuna salad expert, for assistance for this admirable goal? Is he deluding himself to think Brad cares about trees and rocks and not bottom lines and marketing goals?
Perhaps Albert is an optimist, which, truthfully, is a low-grade form of insanity. Like praying.
By the end of the film, Albert is calm and confident while Brad Stand is a mumbling, crying, mess, having lost his house, his girlfriend, and maybe his job. And yet Albert sees him not as an enemy, but a kindred spirit. Perhaps they are the same, after all.
Maybe they can go together, Albert and Brad, to the one tract of open space left between the mall and the department store, hold hands, and finally find out what happens when you stand in a meadow at dusk.
Elad Haber likes to steal Arcade Fire lyrics for his bio. His stories have been featured most recently at Space and Time Magazine, Your Dream Journal, and Truancy. You can follow his ramblings on twitter @MusicInMyCar or on his website at eladhaber.wordpress.com.