Monday, December 8, 2008

The Air I Breathe

The Air I Breathe is allegedly based on a Chinese Proverb about life. At the beginning of the film, there is a quote that I can’t quite recall, which sets the stage for the film. To paraphrase, Life consists of four basic elements…Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow and Love. I tend to be a bit jaded towards Hollywood, whose attempts at profundity sometimes seem whimsical and superficial as opposed to their intended depth. The concept that life would be comprised of these particular four elements just doesn’t seem like something a philosopher would come up with. So mark me in the skeptical column regarding the premise of this movie. Snopes failed to confirm my suspicions on this one.

Major Spoiler Alert (skip six paragraphs)
Having dismissed the premise of this movie as a product more of Hollywood than Confucius, I must say that I enjoyed the film in spite of myself. The Air I Breathe tells four intertwining stories based on this alleged proverb. The elements are applied singularly to four individuals and how that element expresses the essence of the character being studied. The four studies intersect in a single story of rebirth. It begins with an investor Happiness (Forest Whitaker) who appears to be obsessive compulsive. He is infatuated, not surprisingly, with butterflies (a theme that works it’s way into the film many times). Happiness interacts with a single client that we observe, amazed at the accuracy of his client’s investment prowess. Happiness ends up overhearing an inside tip on a horse race, which leads him to break from his normal routine and invest 50,000 dollars. The horse trips and falls, leaving Happiness on the hook to a mob boss named Fingers (Andy Garcia). Fingers explains to Happiness what the consequences are for trying to run, making an example of another debtor by removing a finger.

Happiness decides to try and run, and discovers that Fingers has an enforcer that happens to be his best investor. The enforcer is called Pleasure (Brendan Fraser). Pleasure is waiting in Happiness’ home when he returns and attempts to pack his belongings. As Happiness attempts to head out the front door, Pleasure stops him, and shows that he is visibly angry over the choices Happiness has made…forcing Pleasure to intervene. Pleasure holds a small handgun to Happiness’ head, before handing the firearm over to him. The handgun has a small butterfly on the handgrip. Happiness realizes that he has lived his life within a set of rules that he chooses to free himself from. The liberation leads Happiness to plan a bank robbery in finite detail.

Pleasure is Fingers’ right hand man. He has the ability to see the future. It is a gift that does not allow him the liberty to change the future. So what does it matter? Pleasure is never wrong. Pleasure is tasked with showing Fingers nephew “the ropes.” Fingers also shows Pleasure an album cover featuring a singer (Trista, which means Sorrow) whose contract he has won through a bad debt. Pleasure does not see anything when looking at the girl on the album cover. An indication that Pleasure’s gift may be failing. While showing Fingers nephew the ropes, Pleasure is wrong for the first time in predicting the future, resulting in a severe beating. He is rushed to the hospital where he is treated by Love (Kevin Bacon).

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