Have you ever thought about where the frontier of the real meets the frontier of the fantastic? What if you were wrong about the authenticity of the entities existing around you? What if the notions that you let govern your life are an illusion?
In the science-fiction movie Comet, we witness two disoriented lovers, Dell and Kimberly, who struggle to comprehend the reality around them and are searching for an escape to alternate realities. They suffer from an existential crisis and harbor disbelief towards notions of time, love, and even the accuracy of the moments that are unraveling in front of them. Their entrenched existentialism affects the core of the relationship, and the viewer watches how the couple oscillates between reality and dreams. Perhaps, one could say that as faithful to the complexities of human existence as the film Comet is, it remains an audio-visual essay that not only raises the question of what reality is and how many realities are stretching out before us but also if everything that we are seeing and feeling, including love is real.
Before proceeding into analyzing the contemporary tale of love, let us delve deeper into the driving force behind their relationship, that is existentialism. Existentialism is a term that flourished during the decade of World War II and “is as much a literary phenomenon as a philosophical one” (Crowell, 2020). (1) Its main idea revolves around the belief that existence precedes essence, in the sense that no one is brought upon in this world with a purpose, but we need to search for our own unique meaning in the experience of living (The Ethics Centre, 2018). (2)
Indeed, Dell, the male protagonist shown through snapshots of moments during his relationship with Kimberly, thrown like puzzle pieces onto the movie screen, denies outright the existence of love. In fact, he confesses: “I don’t believe in love. I think all relationships deteriorate into hate or indifference” (Esmail, 2014). (3) His cynicism comes into collision with Kimberly who believes in love and its importance. Dell also adds to his statement later in the film that the beginning foundation of every relationship is built on a lie meaning that the reality often presented to us is insincere. The skeptic tones of the characters and their cynicism are also reflected in the cinematography of the film. To be more precise, the majority of the scenes are filmed in rooms with dim lighting carrying blue undertones which as a color signifies passivity, melancholia, and isolation. (4) Hence the reader becomes aware even subconsciously of the dramatic elements of the film and the protagonists’ psyche which lies in the obscurity regarding the meaning of their relationship, feelings as well as the reality unraveling around them.
On the other hand, Kimberly, while she believes in the essence of love, is battling her own emotional strains of existence. As the relationship with Dell has matured and they have grown to dedicate time for one another, Kimberly struggles to understand the notion of love the way Dell is experiencing it. She asks him whether he had ever dreamt about her, and more specifically she asks: “a dream, like ambiguous depictions of what we are, were or could be”. (3) According to Sigmund Freud, the famous psychologist, dreams are a product of the subconscious that surface from its depths to the sleeping brain and represent repressed wishes and desires that do not constitute a part of living reality (Guo and Zhang, 2018). (5) For that reason, reality is not confined to the living experiences of a single person, but a larger world can be hidden within us, and sometimes this mystical reality is much harder to reach and comprehend than the one the five human senses can process. By asking this question to Dell, Kimberly attempts to reveal the truth about the way Dell is experiencing his feelings for her so she can complete the pieces of her living reality. However, even when Dell expresses his love for Kimberly and tells her that he loves her, she responds doubtfully to the reality he is offering her: “It never sounds real when you say it like it doesn’t exist." (3) Another concept Kimberly is having difficulty accepting is that of the fundamental nature of time. Indeed, the concept of time can be very complicated considering everyone is experiencing the notion of time differently. According to theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, time is an illusion. He posits that reality is just a complex network of events onto which we project sequences of past, present and future.” (Jaffe, 2018). (6) Kimberly expresses to Dell how she wants to reject the concept of time as it creates limitations to life and extends to every facet of the world including art. Particularly, she illustrates how every form of art is time-based, meaning that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That is true except for the case of paintings. Paintings do not have a beginning, a middle or an end, they are simply an observation of artful depictions with no time restrictions. (3) Kimberly wishes her life was like a painting and that is why she asks Dell to keep their relationship for “always”. This adverb is reflective of Kimberly’s thoughts on time. “Always” does not mark a specific sequence of events, instead, it is a word that refers to an infinite stretch of time; its meaning moving through time boundlessly. However, Dell’s response to “always” is different as he experiences the notion of time differently. Particularly, he says: “Always is as scary, there’s a finality to it”. (3) By saying so, Dell reveals that he does not believe in the value of “always” as all things come to an end whether that be mindfully or mindlessly. To better illustrate the mindset of Dell, let us examine one more scene following in the film that unfolds in a different setting and at a different time frame of their relationship where Dell highlights once more the finality of things: “Is it weird to imagine that one day, this will all be old to us? This walk, us meeting. It’ll just be an old memory”. (3).
Indeed, when inevitably the two lovers drift apart and their moments transform into memories and the film reaches towards the end, Dell makes one effort to reunite with Kimberly after a long time. It is in that scene that Dell provides an answer to Kimberly’s question about whether he had ever dreamt about her. He claims that he had a very vivid dream about them, a dream of memories, conversations that they’ve had which weaved in and out of each other like drawings and finally blended altogether like a painting. (3) In a sense, there was no beginning, no middle, and no end to their relationship as it was presented in that dream. He confesses that it was this dream that made him realize how much he regretted losing her and that he still loves her. However, the news announced by Kimberly that she is pregnant and about to marry another man, crash Dell and bring him into a very vulnerable position as he needs to confront the reality in which he feels alienated:
I feel like I’m in the wrong world because I don’t belong in a world where we don’t end up
together. I don’t. There are parallel universes out there where this didn’t happen. Where I was with
you, and you were with me and whatever universe that is that’s the one where my heart lives in...
You know I never thought love was real and now I think life isn’t real without it...”. (3)
It is in that monologue that the viewer realizes the emotional development Dell underwent as his perception of love appears to have changed from that of the beginning of the film. By admitting to the existence of love, Dell is leaping into a far scarier territory than denying the essence of love as he did in the beginning of the film. And that is because by accepting the existence of love, he is subscribing to its value and the loss of Kimberly signifies the loss of love for him. And such a loss could reduce his life to the idea of meaningless existence he was espousing before he met Kimberly. Therefore, it is understandable that he wishes to travel to a parallel universe, an alternative reality where he and Kimberly would have the happy ending, he believes they deserved.
Taking everything into consideration, the film Comet illustrates greatly the complexity of human existence and perhaps while the larger reality and the ultimate truth of our being may be elusive to us, it is always out there waiting to be explored and uncovered. It is also important to note how through this relationship that Comet demonstrates, people can expand their emotional map and leave reinvented with new perspectives and a broader mind.
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“Ethics Explainer: Existentialism”, The Ethics Centre, 11 Dec 2018, ethics.org.au/ethics-explainer-existentialism/. Accessed: 11/10/21.
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Guo B. and Zhang W. “Freud’s Dream Interpretation: A Different Perspective Based on the Self- Organization Theory of Dreaming”, Frontiers in Psychology, 23 August 2018, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01553/full. Accessed: 12/10/21.
Jaffe, Andrew. “The Illusion of Time.” Nature: Books and Art, Online Journal, 16 April 2018, www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04558-7. Accessed: 12/10/21,
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