“Who am I?”
Like most people, this is a question I have struggled with on an existential level. I’ve taken personality indexes and long walks in hopes of answering this essential question. I’ve consulted with my family and friends. I’ve even prayed. Who am I? Who am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to do?
Dr. Martin Harris, the protagonist in Unknown, faces a similar conundrum, though of a decidedly more tangible nature. While attending a conference in Germany with his wife, he is in a car accident, and upon waking from a four day coma, finds not that he has forgotten who he is, but that everyone else seems to have forgotten who he is, including, most disturbingly, his wife.
What follows is a very typical and predictable espionage thriller, though the film does include a couple of scenes that are worth the price of admission – most notably, a car chase in the middle of the film and a crackling scene between veteran actors Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella. These two scenes hearken to spy cinema’s past days, when car chases weren’t frantically edited and intrigue was allowed to be in the subtext until the last possible moment. Overall though, Unknown is largely unremarkable.
Like many other films recently released though, the film does center on issues of fiction and reality and how we distinguish between the two. Interestingly, Harris’ “truth” is taken from him because his community abandons him. He knows who he is, he thinks, but those who supposedly love him seem to have forgotten.
What identity do we have apart from those who know us? On my own, who am I? And even if I know, does it matter?
Many argue that the current culture denies the existence of objective truth. Perhaps, but our culture does seem to accept the existence of relative truth. Allowing this, the question becomes, relative to what?
Truth in today’s culture seems to be relative, at least partially, to one’s community. The meaning of anything, including a person, is drawn from whatever surrounds it. It’s not that a meaning exists independently and is then supported by outside sources. It’s that the outside sources, in communication with each other, create the large part of the meaning of the central object.
Look at Facebook for example. On Facebook, a person has a profile, but what’s really important is that person’s network of “friends.” Every person’s News feed and Wall is completely different, and every News feed and Wall is made up almost entirely of what other people have posted. Without “friends,” a person on Facebook has very little identity.
Dr. Harris’ situation is like being friendless on Facebook. He doesn’t exist divorced from his community.
Some may see this denial of objective truth as an affront to Christianity. I do not. I see the complimentary acceptance of relative – or “related” – truth as an opportunity. Christians are supposed to be a people defined by our love for God expressed in our love for each other. We’re supposed to be all about meaning-giving community.
So, “who am I?” I find I know who I am as I am known by others, and apart from my community, I have very little meaning at all. For a long time, society has championed the supremacy of the individual. It’s a healthy change to focus a bit more on the importance of our communities. In my view, it’s a very Christian change.