Movie review: Ship of Theseus

Watched ‘Ship of Theseus’. A friend of mine insisted that I accompany him and take lessons in philosophy from him as I won’t be able to comprehend.

Anyway, the film is good. It is not great if overall perspective is taken. It has its flaws and it has its parts of brilliance. Cinematography, acting, direction, dialogues are the highlights of the film. These would easily account for the rave reviews that the film got.

As the film starts, the title is explained. The ship of Theseus is a paradox about identities. Theseus had this ship which he used for his return to Athens. The ship was kept in a harbour for centuries as a monument. As the time passed and any of the plank started decaying, it was replaced with a new one. So over a period of time, though never mentioned, the ship might have lost all its actual planks (or the ones in which Theseus actually returned) and got replaced by all the new ones.

Now the question is whether the ship is the ship it was i.e. Ship of Theseus or will another ship that is made by the non-working/decayed planks over the time will be called the Ship of Theseus?

This central theme drives three stories which end as the sub plots of the main story in the climax. The story is about three individuals who got organ transplants that either altered their behvaiour or whole outlook after they realised they had transplant.

There is an underlying, bothering question: Am I the same person that I was when I was blind? Am I the same individual who was strictly a Shwetambar Jain who following the principles of Jainism tried to withdraw from life as he had liver problem that could only be solved by an eventual transplant? Am I the same person who received a kidney from someone and realises that he could have received a kidney due to some poor man selling it because of poverty?

The film portrays that the personal thinking and to some extent the abilities as well change as the three protagonists receive organs. But it is open. We don’t actually know. The director doesn’t want us to know. He leaves it to us to decide whether it can be called the ship of Theseus or is it a new set of planks.

The only flaw here is, if I ignore the symbolism, in the mythical ship the whole ship was replaced as the time passed. It was a completely new ship without any of the associated material from the actual ship. Here only one part of the ship changes or eight parts of a single ship (donor’s body) go to eight places and make lives easier for eight people, in most of the case being the life saver.

There is a fight within to discover the new identity. Has the transplant, or part of another person’s being, left any kind of affect on the self of the recipient? The film construct it to make us believe that yes, it does.  What about the soul? Does the soul hold essence? Is it the mind who sees what we see or an eye transplant cripples the brain by eliminating the previous association it had with the dead eye?

There are a lot of questions. The whole notion of construction of identity, the duality of body and soul has been challenged as well as portrayed in a great way.

The dialogues, as naive as they might sound, are extremely philosophical in nature and keep the audience engaged.

Otherwise, it is a good watch. One should watch it also for the issue it takes and delivers beautifully. An unusual theme with excellent execution.


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