When countless individuals sat down to read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life with some chardonnay and oversized Snuggies, they likely did so with a sense of cautious enthusiasm and understandable desperation. Who, honestly, would not want to discover how to make his or her life as meaningful as possible? Secular or not, human beings search for meaning. Laurence Fishburne’s vague philosophizing in The Matrix taught me that, on some level, everyone searches for truth. And, from what I’ve learned from Community‘s Jeff Winger about the search for truth, personal introspection seems like a good place to start. If I can’t know the truth about life, I can at least know the truth about myself, right?
Equipped with that half-baked logic, I propose that the following question can effectively serve as a lens through which to peer deep into your soul:
Which film director would direct your life?
Observant readers will note that I used “would” instead of other possible auxiliary verbs. This diction suggests, among other things, that your life harmonizes with the style of a particular director so well that that director would have no choice but to direct your life. That director is your soul mate, your spirit animal, your emotional doppelganger. To pick your director, you must know yourself. This is where the introspection begins.
Some matches may be obvious. If you appreciate calculated violence, targeted monologues (mostly about violence), and looking in car trunks (or out of them), then Quentin Tarantino would direct your life. Wes Anderson would direct the lives of those who prefer quirky symmetry (meaning lives that feature chaotic naïveté over backdrops of security and comfort). And Ang Lee would direct your life if it is filled with frustrating beauty—an aesthetically pleasing pain, as if the beauty highlights the acuteness of your angst.
Some directors are difficult to categorize. The following paragraphs explain several brilliant directors and their ideal matches.
Kathryn Bigelow often showcases the struggles and consequences associated with fierce individuality. Her protagonists are alone against the world, whether that world is symbolized as a bomb, a looming nuclear war, or Osama bin Laden. Her emotional doppelgängers are strong-willed, almost hard-headed individuals who believe that, ultimately, one truly significant accomplishment can overshadow an entire life filled with loneliness and skepticism.
If Sam Mendes directs your life, you fall into one of two categories: you are either a somewhat weathered renegade who fights for the greater good, or you live in the suburbs. And, as odd as it sounds, those two categories are closely linked. Like extended narrative versions of “Rockin’ the Suburbs” by Ben Folds, movies like American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, and Away We Go highlight the hopelessness of suburbia. Oscar-winner American Beauty combines the bleak social commentary of Paul Thomas Anderson and the unfiltered angst of Blink-182. Reframed as an inner-city spy version of Lester Burnham, James Bond becomes a stark symbol of the middle-class’s struggle against oppressive systems. To pick Sam Mendes as your life’s director, you must bounce between extremes of against-the-odds hopefulness and utter despair. You get to decide which wins: your hope (James) or your despair (Lester).
Like Bigelow, Antoine Fuqua directs narratives with uncompromising protagonists, but Fuqua’s primary characters tend to approach obstacles with a grittier, screw-everyone mindset. King Arthur, Mike Banning, and Robert McCall all, at some point, make a conscious decision to figuratively flip the world the bird and get the job done. Unlike Bigelow’s characters, the self-sacrifices of King Arthur and Robert McCall become more about self than sacrifice, which somehow doesn’t seem to diminish the impressiveness or the righteousness of the actions. You should allow Antione Fuqua to direct your life if you have immense odds to overcome—and you’re indignant about that fact.
Zack Snyder is a talented director who suffers from misinformed expectations. Many moviegoers, it seems, purchase tickets for Snyder films without understanding Snyder’s directorial style. Zack Snyder’s films feature an impressive visual entrée of skin, blood, and aggressively retouched images. Plot subtleties, dialogue, and characterization are all side dishes—they exist, but they’re not what you came for. Anyone who consciously decides to watch a movie by the director of Sucker Punch and 300 and is insulted by the movie’s lack of “substance” is an imbecile. You don’t go to McDonalds for a healthy meal, and you don’t watch a Zack Snyder film because you want to think critically. Zack Snyder consistently delivers what his reputation promises: visually intriguing experiences that immerse the audience in gritty, morally simplistic fantasy worlds. And I love it. If your life is a series of well-doctored Instagram photos, Zack Snyder is your director.
Alejandro González Iñárritu: Pick this director if your life feels grounded in realism, yet you sense, at moments, that you have a higher purpose. Not a divine purpose, necessarily, but a single, seductive goal that cannot be ignored.
Sam Raimi: Pick this director if your life seems absurd, yet that absurdity is your legacy. Sure, you’ve made some poor decisions, but many (including yourself at times) assume that your missteps were intentional, part of some grand, lifelong exhibition, resulting in a dedicated, cult-like following of your actions.
Gaspar Noé: Pick this director if your life feels like a dream—or a hallucination. And you don’t enjoy the dream—not all the time. And sometimes you hate it. But it’s intriguing. And horrifying. Maybe.
Jared Hess: Pick this director if you are lost in the wilderness of your own social ineptitude, and your compass only works when you fully embrace the peculiarities of everyday life. Acknowledge the comedic qualities of loneliness, and you won’t feel so alone.
Which other directors could effectively direct your life? It’s a question worth answering.