That Uncertain Feeling – Shunyamurti Movie Night Essay

On Saturday nights, the Sat Yoga Ashram turns into the Sat Yoga Cinémathèque, perhaps the greatest art house cinema this side of Holy Wood. From Tarkovsky to Kubrick, from Bresson to Malick to Jodorowsky, from Hollywood to postmodern classics, the sangha gathers to explore the spiritual journey of ego dissolution and soul liberation through the lens of film. For each film, Shunyamurti offers an exquisite teaching to guide the experience in a way that will provide the deepest and most thoughtful reflections and post-movie discussions. We hope these poetic treasures will inspire you to find the sacred journey and intelligence that is hidden in the films we feature.

This evening we have the privilege of taking a journey into the past, into the vertical, into the future as teleologically precognized, into the permutations of the ego as veil of the Real, and into the unveiling of the veil, a sacred recognition of the divine within the human being, hidden yet clearly present to the Being who is veiled within the human acephalous drive machine, but not absent as the creative loving presence disturbing the world dream in its machinic materialism of fetishistic auto-degradation, with the innocent gargle of awakening.

The film, titled That Uncertain Feeling, takes us into the past. It was released in 1941, just as the Second World War is becoming all too serious. This comedy was a flop at the box office and has nearly been forgotten, dropped down the cinematic memory hole. But it was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, a renowned auteur of classic films. Why did this film of his fail to find an audience? The reviews tend to say that the film was too insubstantial. It was called “mere candy” by the New York Times. But is the problem that the film is too sweet—or that it was, and perhaps still is, too bitter for an audience in ego consciousness to be able to swallow? And is it possible that the real tragicomedy of this film was never appreciated? It is a comedy that laughs at who we are when we are at our best, not just at our worst.

The film offers a multi-level set of dialogues: a woman with her hiccups; a woman with her female friends and their influence as part of a social system; a woman with her fantasies and her drives; and a woman dissatisfied with her husband trying first to defeat him, and then, after realizing his strength, trying (and fearing) to be a real person, even perhaps a soul, with her counter-gambiting husband.

It is also a film about the husband and his relationship with his business persona; with his male friends and colleagues for whom he must remain in the power position of the alpha male; with his ostensible enemy, who has seemingly stolen his wife’s affection, but who deserves at one level only pity, though at another he deserves awe; with the husband’s own soul and that of his wife, and even with that of his whole social world; and the effort of both husband and wife to rise to the occasion of the most profound challenge to their relationship that they have yet faced.

The film reveals a great deal of profound information regarding the relationship of the human being to love. There is on display the impersonal force of the drives; the personal game playing, lies, and manipulation of the ego; and yet also something more, a deeper more authentic love that keeps anyone in the film from harming anyone else, even when there is punching and slapping. The film reminds us it is a cartoon, a comedy, a vehicle for the redemption of the human soul trapped in its identification with its ego. And it loves even the ego with a generosity and compassion of a Bodhisattvic intelligence. 

The film makes fun of psychoanalysis as well. The therapeutic act is portrayed as a combination of coercive honesty, seductive dishonesty, manipulative matchmaking, and reductive meaning-making. The drive tension manifested by the patient as a hiccup is transformed by an implied master’s discourse into a willful glitch in relational harmony as an overt demand to be re-consecrated as the one and only object of desire.

The film intelligently makes fun of the marital game of negotiation of desire and privilege, using a third party patsy as the pawn in the game.

The film makes the most fun of all at the expense of a musical genius whose performance anxiety (caused by his immature narcissism) keeps him from achieving the full potential of his talent to bring success in the eyes of the big Other. His rather primitive defense mechanisms of vulgar disdain, general negativity, compensatory superiority, terrified aloofness, and pitiful temper tantrums—which make him unable to sustain an adult sexual relationship—make him the perfect foil to represent a credible threat to the marriage without him actually being one, which is obvious to the husband as well.

Thus, the film portrays a game, not a war, and not a tragedy. But there is a bittersweet sadness to the film, an implicit tragic missed opportunity, which is that none of the game players can make use of the space of freedom they mutually create to shake up their rigid patterns, or to do anything more than repeat those patterns. Growth and transformation do not happen. The opportunity is lost. The ego re-parks itself on Park Avenue and the veils of maya remain in place. But the beauty of the film is that though the veils remain in place for the protagonists, they cannot do so for those in the audience for whom the veils have slyly been unveiled. 

In what does not happen in this film, which keeps it pegged within the apparent locus of the petty and the pitiful, we see a sublime vision of the future, of the day when the truth can be felt and spoken of the divine love which had until then been hidden behind the egoic maneuvers of the creatures within the diegetic dream, but is revealed as the purpose of the dreamer, the director whose intelligence and love bring ever more spiritually mature dreams into manifestation, until we can actually dream—and be dreamed into—a new Sat Yuga.

May this film unveil whatever still needs to fall away so that you can all realize the beyond of even the most beautiful dream worlds: the Supreme Liberation.


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