Ship of Theseus is a paradox that questions if every part of a ship is changed over time, would the ship remain the same. There is no intention of really resolving this paradox in the film and the paradox remains a paradox even in the end, however it certainly opens up a dialogue. The film concludes the cycle in the end and thus puts us right at the beginning of the story on how each character took their journey to reach this destination, albeit this destination is actually a beginning of another journey.
A person dies and his organs are donated to different people. He is no ordinary person, the whole idea of donating most of his organs doesn’t occur to an ordinary person (of course a person has to sign up for it before he/she dies, hence making it his/her sole decision or thought). He is an explorer, he goes deep in caves in quest of truth, he doesn’t wait to look at the glitter but keeps moving forward, for more and he keeps on going. This unending final shot gave me a feeling that he never wanted to stop, not even after his death, he wanted to explore more.
For his exploration, let’s go back to the start.
A blind lady shoots pictures with her voice enabled camera, a fictitious device that reads light/colours/f-stops for her and speaks loudly for her to comprehend the scene in her mind without seeing and take that picture. She takes brilliant pictures yet she doesn’t consider herself good. When her eyesight is repaired, she has a different vision now to look at the world in a new light. She struggles, finds it difficult, so she goes to a most beautiful and vibrant place, she struggles still. The viewfinder is not enough; the world is much larger to fit in a frame. She keeps her camera aside and looks at it, and the world is lot more beautiful this way. To achieve this vision she had to break-out of the viewfinder’s frame and explore more, and look at the bigger and beautiful picture. But to achieve this vision, did she need an explorer’s eyes?
An erudite monk, a staunch believer in the existence of soul, a person who puts existence before humanity, a person convinced with his proclivity to the extent where he has answers for every question thrown at his fundamental approach, he is no ordinary person. An animal-rights activist whose beliefs are tested when he is diagnosed with liver cirrhosis and would now have to depend on medication that is lab tested on animals. He refuses to live and accepts pain in his stubbornness but doesn’t give in. Every person has a breaking point; he too gives in his long held ideology when his pain is beyond endurable. He is cured and we see him in the last scene again. This time he is not wearing his robe, he has probably risen above his beliefs, and he has accepted the medication and has the liver of the cave explorer. His vision has broadened; his fight cannot be won with stubbornness but with an open mind. He is a changed person. Is it because of the organ transplant? We’ll come to that.
A stockbroker, a self-sufficient man who argues with his grandmother over the idea of social work and altruism, believes in making money and he doesn’t consider it bad. A recent recipient of kidney, when he comes to know of a person whose kidney was stolen at a shady hospital at around the same time as his transplant, he begins to investigate. His compassion for the poor man who lost his kidney takes him to Stockholm, its clear case of rich stealing from poor. He tries to help, but in vain, his grandmother tells him, it is as good as it gets. But he is a changed man now, we don’t see him anymore on his cell phone talking to his client, he has struck a balance, is it again because of the organ transplant?
All these three people had their organs replaced by that of the cave explorer. They were changed people now; they had his organs but certainly not his thought or his idea. It was only at the end that they could feel what the mind tried to explore in the cave. All the three characters embark on a journey in each of their stories, both physically and mentally only to arrive at a new departure.
In the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the tin man used to be a lumberjack who had his limbs chopped off by an enchanted axe. Each time he lost a limb, he replaced it with a prosthetic limb made of tin. He eventually ended up a mechanical being, albeit possessing the same consciousness as he had while being a human. Whatever Plutarch says, the Ship of Theseus remains the same for me even if all it’s parts are replaced, ‘cause the Ship of Theseus for me is an idea, a thought.
Ideas are contagious, it doesn’t need an organ transplant to share an idea. An idea can get easily transplanted from one brain to another, only if one keeps an open mind. Be it the blind photographer who got a whiff from her boyfriend, be it the monk who got it from the young lawyer or be it the stockbroker who got it from his grandmother. It occurs subconsciously but that is how the ship dismantles and assembles again to become a better ship.
Ship of Theseus aspires to be realistic, but its character are all larger than life save for Navin the stockbroker. Also Ship of Theseus has been termed as pretentious by many a viewers, and that is because it takes a didactic route, especially Charvaka's parley with Maitreya seemed a tad too priggish to me. There is a scene where the characters talk about a Copenhagen climate change summit and in the backdrop is a wall with environmentalist messages. The characters are also very chatty and their conversations about the idea of existence almost seems superficial at times. Yes the characters are resolute but there is too much of exposition to make them even stronger. The structure isn't really novel either, for we have seen many a films with diverse stories all having the same connection eventually bringing them to all the respective characters to the same place at the same time and to a more or less same destiny. Sometimes the film tries to take a metaphysical route with long silences and unusually composed shots but often such a route is diverted towards the garrulous outbreaks of philosophical colloquies. As Charvaka says, I too don't understand why there is so much of intellectual masturbation. It almost feels like a poetry suddenly and very unexpectedly turned into a prose and now we rather have to rely on that prose for progressing through the story.
Ship of Theseus fortunately doesn't remains docked in a harbor, there is a good amount of movement. The director also indulges in some long takes for certain scenes keeping us glued to the moment, but unfortunately he does halt at times in his journey and doesn't let the stream flow freely.
Ship of Theseus even with its shortcomings stills comes out as a strong film which succeeds in putting forth its idea that opens up a dialogue for us viewers. Even with its overt exposition it does engage us and makes us an active part of the story. In these days of Indian Cinema, where most films are often like ship of fools that operate without a pilot, Ship of Theseus is a refreshing adventure that is both cerebral as well as emotional.