What Makes for a Free Spirit?

[Warning: film plot spoiler ahead]
In the film, “Yes Man” (2008), Jim Carey plays the part of Carl, a conventional, introverted, cautious fellow who works as a bank loan officer. We gather that Carl has never really recovered from his divorce and has, since then, socially withdrawn. Carl’s friends try to draw him out of his shell, but to little avail. Finally something does happen that transforms Carl’s life. He is convinced — after attending a meeting led by Terrence, a motivational speaker and guru — to say “yes” to everything that comes his way.

As evidence of his transformation, we see Carl engaging in all sorts of unconventional, somewhat risky behavior. Here, then, is an intriguing example of someone employing a variant of the George Costanza strategy of “doing the opposite” of what he is accustomed to do. In this case, it involved rejecting life’s possibilities to a new openness to them. The film is also reminiscent, in that respect, to “Groundhog Day” (1993).

(Here is the trailer for the film.)

Naturally, almost every Hollywood film must have its romantic interest. So it that Carl encounters a young woman named Alison, who offers him a ride on her motorcycle. To reinforce that Alison is a free spirit, we see her singing in a punk rock band, doing photography, driving her motorcycle, in a carefree and reckless fashion, and being altogether spontaneous and bohemian. In time, Carl and Alison fall in love.

Their relationship proceeds swimmingly, until Allison asks Carl to move in with her. Carl thinks for a moment before agreeing. Allison feels a sharp sense of umbrage over Carl’s moment of hesitation. Alison immediately breaks up with him. Carl then seeks to win her back. He finally succeeds in convincing her of his love and they live happily ever after.

This leads us to an interesting question: what constitutes a free spirit? Does riding a motorcycle, warring tattoos, and playing in a rock band mean that one’s spirit is free? The fact that Alison was so hurt and angered by Carl’s moment of hesitation indicates that she is subject to the type of longings all too familiar in male/female relationships. More specifically, Alison’s view of romance involves being loved unconditionally, with no qualifications whatsoever. The fact that Carl hesitated before agreeing to move in with her means that his love is conditional. This has wounded Alison’s vanity, for it implies that she is not everything to him, that she is somewhat less than a god, or a goddess.

Alas, Alison is a child of the times, the age of Carl Rogers, with his foolish notion that true love, between everybody — including man and wife — must be unconditional. Yes, love between a parent and a young child is unconditional, but all other forms of love must be conditional, if they are to endure. This is certainly true of the love of between a husband a wife, for both partners are required to fulfill duties and obligations to each other, if they are to remain worthy of each other’s love and respect. Indeed, in the scene where they reconcile, Carl explains to Alison that moving in together is a serious thing and requires a certain amount of sober-minded reflection. Carl, in other words, reveals himself to be a responsible person, one who is capable of a more mature and lasting love.

Have Alison’s dark feelings been inwardly illuminated by Carl’s explanation? One would like to think so. Alas, it is more likely that their first fight and breakup has set the tone for their future marriage. I.E., Alison will wish to be loved unconditionally, Carl shall err, and he shall be doing a lot of apologizing, explaining, begging, and groveling to win her back. Needless to say, this is not a very happy prognosis for either of them. We see, then, that Alison is subject to the same sort of puerile longings that anyone, whose heart is uneducated about love and by life, would have. In that sense, she is awfully conventional and is anything but a free spirit. (For more on relationships, read “Awakening with the Enemy: The Origin and End of Male/Female Conflict.”)

This leads us back to the question: what constitutes a free spirit? Those who are truly free have…


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