I read the book some two years back, liked every bit of it but somehow it felt hurried then, or maybe I read it so. And because of this I had been a bit apprehensive about watching this movie since then, but guess I was proved wrong. The movie’s quite stunning. The actors perform so seamlessly, so amazingly, in such an unassuming way that you wish the movie to go on and on. The role of Thomas is played by Daniel Day-Lewis, whom I must say I didn’t recognize until I decided to google to see who’s that guy giving such a fantabulous performance that I haven’t seen or heard about. And Voila! He’s Daniel Day-Lewis of There will be Blood fame, this year’s winner of Oscar for Best Actor category. It’s not only Thomas but also roles of Tereza and Sabina played so well that the movie becomes forthrightly a character study trying to unravel its central motif.
The book revolves around and explores Nietzsche’s idea of eternal return which Kundera writes, as below, in the first chapter:
If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every mood we make. That is why Nietzsche called the idea of eternal return the heaviest of burdens (das schwerste Gewicht).
If eternal return is the heaviest of burdens, then our lives can stand out against it in all their splendid lightness.
But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?
The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.
Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.
What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?
Parmenides posed this very question in the sixth century before Christ. He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/nonbeing. One half of the opposition he called positive (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative. We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple except for one difficulty: which one is positive, weight or lightness?
Parmenides responded: lightness is positive, weight negative.
Was he correct or not? That is the question. The only certainty is: the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all.
So this is what is explored through the three characters (actually four in Book, Franz gets too little of screen time in the movie).
Thomas, the main protagonist is a surgeon and a philanderer who takes love and sex to be two separate things and maintains a balance between the two. Sabina is his mistress with whom he shares a special relationship of understanding; or rather one could say she’s the one who understands him well. This view of his is not some weakness of heart or of character but it’s his belief. This is quite supported by the stance that he takes against Soviet pressure after writing a political article just for fun. Thomas’s role presents the ultimate see saw between the Lightness and Weight as while staying true to his passions he marries Teresa. As when he had allowed her stay with him, he says to Sabina, You think I am doing something silly. But how can I be sure about. If I had two lives, in one life I could invite her to stay at my place, and in the second life I could kick her out. Then I could compare and see which had been the best thing to do. But we only live once. Life’s so light. Like an outline we can’t ever fill in or correct… make any better. It’s frightening.
Teresa, played by Juliette Binoche, marries Thomas after one day she unexpectedly lands up at his place following their casual meeting at a bar. Tereza knows bery well about Thomas’s ways but instead of condemning him blames herself to be too week. She even once in a attempt to act on Thomas’s ways ends up spending a night with a stranger but later ends up regretting it and hating herself even more. She loves Thomas even with his infidelities and that becomes her heaviest burden.
Sabina, played by Lena Olin, is the opposite, showing the true essence of lightness. She’s a painter, loves mirrors and understands Thomas well. She loves Thomas but there’s no attachment of her towards him. When Franz leaves his family for her and shows up at her door, though she loves him, she ends up running away. Also she even leaves Thomas and Teresa as Teresa’s unrelenting love for Thomas and the pain form that could have become a burden for her.
The movie stays open to multiple interpretations as weight and lightness are concerned. Kundera says, what happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all, stating the insignificance of our decisions and so ultimately our life. This is lightness and heaviness simultaneously, because if decisions don’t matter they can’t cause suffering, but yet on the whole this stance makes make life insignificant, thereby causing misery.