A film analysis of a phenomenological encounter on happiness

About 4 or 5 years ago, I was struggling with my job and life and I happened to watch a movie, the pursuit of happyness, which had some important influences in my life. The movie was based on a true story of a San Francisco salesman, Chris Gardner’s life. The movie demonstrates how Chris copes with obstacles in his life, how he holds faith, love and independence, and finally becomes a Wall Street legend.

Recently, I watched the movie again. The movie starts with a scene of the crowded Wall Street, with people walking by. There are people with happy faces, people with indifferent faces, people with sad faces, and people with calm faces. Then, the shot quickly flashes on a hobo, laying on the street, who seems dead. This is a world full of people who has different life situation, bad or good, or seems bad or seems good. The movie then shows some scenes in the China town with the crowed and dirty environment, and the laboring people live at the foot of the social ladder. Chris is one of them.

Chris is a salesman, who invests his entire life savings in portable bone-density scanners and tries very hard to raise his family by selling the machines. But they haven’t been sold out for several months. One day, after several consecutive rough rejections, Chris walks by a big building at Wall Street, and notices a nicely suited guy parking his fancy red sport sedan. Chris walks to the guy with a big smile and asks him what do you do, and how can you have such a nice life? The suited guy tells him that he works as a stockbroker in the building. In Chris’s eyes, all the people coming out from the building have a happy smile on their faces. But are they really happy, like Chris sees? This scene reminds me of my tough period during my mid 20s. I was in depression with three months of insomnia and isolation. During that time, everyone except me seems so happy and fulfilled. I am the only person who feels depressed and isolated. But is it true? Do those people really feels happy? Or they just look happy in a sad person’s eyes, because the sad one is so eager to have the happy and fulfilled feeling, which is absent in his/her life for a long time. Chris, with a sweet smile on his face talking to the suited guy, might also seem very happy to another person who is trapped in a bad situation. Everyone might look very different from another people’s eyes and from the perspective of themselves.

Then Chris makes a decision to become a stockbroker, like those people coming out of the building with big smiles. He takes an unpaid internship in a brutally competitive stockbroker-training program, where only one in twenty interns will make the cut. Without a salary, Chris and his son are evicted from their apartment and are forced to sleep on the streets, in homeless shelters and even behind the locked doors of a metro station bathroom. However, with self-confidence, optimism, and the love of his son, Chris finally overcomes his obstacles and becomes a successful stockbroker.

The most impressive scene in the movie, which lies in my memory for years, is at the end of the movie, Chris claps his hands for himself in uncontrollable tears of happiness surrounded by a crowded people in Wall Street, just as the scene at the beginning of the movie. The difference is there is a happy man standing there with tears, clapping for himself this time. This true happiness (or just happiness from my perspective) touches my heart and every time when I think of the scene, my nose twitches. We are all pursuing true happiness and ultimate fulfillment, right? But, what is true happiness? Can it always be only a pursuit? Can we ever actually have it? Are there true happy people? Or there are just people who is happier than us? What is it like to experience happiness and fulfillment? How it manifests differently to different people? How it feels different to the same person, under different circumstances?

Note: This is a phenomenological assignment – phenomenological encounter manifestations and appearances via film from Dr. Mark Vagle’s phenomenology course


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