Heidegger’s Resoluteness in the film ‘Paha Maa’

13. 3. 2005 Peter Tattersall

“Syyttömänä syntymään sattui hän,
tähän maahan pohjoiseen ja kylmään”

The above excerpt from Eppu Normaali’s song, shown at the start of the film, is a description of the Heideggerian concept of being “thrown-into-the world”. Dasein does not create his world and its meanings, he inherits it. However, Dasein is free to (and in Heidegger’s view obliged to) re-evaluate the world’s meanings for himself. Authentic Dasein recognises the possibilities made available to him within facticity, and creates meaning for his own being-in the-world. It is through resoluteness that Dasein can change the meaning of his world.

The film Paha Maa deals with how those thrown into the world react to facticity; the tragedy that befalls most of the characters in the film can be said to be a result of failing to recognise the oppurtunities offered within facticity and a failiure to define meaning for their existence.

While many characters in the film live in a lack of resoluteness, allowing events in facticity to carry them from one tragedy to another, Tuomas and his father represent a contrary axis; they represent something closer to Heidegger’s authentic way of life. Tuomas has questioned the world’s accepted conventions and defined his own meanings by which he lives to the full. That Tuomas is ready to break the law is not because he wants to protest and rebel against conventional meanings; if this were the case, he would have experienced emotions which usually accompany acts of protest and rebellion, such as anger and fear.

Yet the fact that Tuomas is profoundly serene, even while inside the premises he has illegally broken into, shows that that he does not feel a bond to the conventional meanings and ethics that he has abandoned. The case is different for Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov: for although Raskolnikoff initially tries to justify his crime to himself, he experiences feelings of guilt because he still clings to the values against which his crime rebelled; he still occupies the same world as his interregator, Prophyrius. Tuomas, on the other hand, suffers neither guilt nor fear, because he occupies a world within which his action is not a crime.

According to Heidegger’s idea of resoluteness, the purpose towards which resolute Dasein strives is not of primary importance- Heidegger makes no moral judgment on what meanings Dasein should create for himself, rather the important thing is the actual act of creating meanings, of opening up new worlds. Although Tuomas and Elina justify their crime in ethical terms (take from the rich, give to the poor), the ethics of their act is of secondary importance- the important thing is the creation of meaning for their existence. This is emphasized when Niko asks how he will be rewarded for his participation in the crime: he is answered: “you get to be part of something important”, in other word the reward is meaning.

Like his son, Tuomas’ father can be described as a case of Dasein living with a degree of authenticity. The aged father’s physical dwelling place, a wooden house by the side of a busy road, is a metaphor for his role in life: the stationary old man, rooted in place, observes and interprets the moving world from his window. Referring to world events reported by the radio, he twice repeats “the end is near”; he appears to genuinely have accepted the impending “end” as a matter of fact, for he questions Tuomas as to whether it is wise to have children with the world being what it is.

His acknowledgment of an impending “end” distinguishes him from all other characters in the film, who seem to live without temporal perspective; they are carried from one event to another, rarely in control of their actions or reactions.

But because of his old age, Tuomas’ father has had to acknowledge the possibility of his own death, and thus is able to see and accept possible “deaths” (or endings) elsewhere, too; such acceptance of endings is what Heidegger describes as being-towards-death, a state where one is prepared to abandon current meanings (even before there are new meanings to replace the old ones).

As well as Tuomas’ father, Niko also says “the end is near” (like Tuomas’ father, he repeats it twice). This he says shortly before trying cocaine for the first time, and thus we can understand his statement, “the end is near” to mean “the end of my current world is near; now I am prepared to discover new meanings, to enter new worlds”. And so he enters, through narcotics. His indulgence in drugs means that he occupies two worlds, that of craving relief from his angst and on the other hand that of achieving distance from his angst through drugs.

In continually switching between two worlds, Niko is unrooted- this is implied also in a physical metaphor: he is always seen carrying his backpack.

At some point after the imprisonment of Tuomas, Niko appears to have abandoned (at least to some extent) his previous, unresolute world and become a teacher. Playing out his father’s fate in reverse, Mika’s almost unbelievable leap from the world of drugs to that of the bright-eyed teacher recalls the way a new world opens up to Raskolnikoff in Siberia; through resoluteness he changes his life’s meanings.

While Teuvo’s world seems on the surface to be completely lacking in resoluteness, his story is in fact a continual struggle to make meaning for himself, to assert his value in the world, against the overwhelming conditions that facticity sets against him.

While aware that he is an alcoholic, he tries to assert a sense of respectability for himself through his work: the items he sells, shampoo and vacuum cleaners, belong to the world of cleanliness; by purveying cleanliness he tries to counter-balance the shabbiness of his alcoholism, and thus give himself a sense of pride. After commiting the murder, he counter-balances the gruesomeness of his act by vacuuming the motel room.

Having no-one to love, Teuvo develops a love for his car, and later for his vacuum cleaner. That he is able to finds an object for his love is a result of resolute action; he recognises the (in his case, limited) possibilities offered by facticity and grasps them to make meaning for his existence. The struggle between resoluteness and passivity continues through to the moment of attempted suicide. Having calmly (resolutely) rigged up the vacuum cleaner hose to the car’s exhaust pipe, his resoluteness eventually gives in, and he leaves the carbon-monoxide filled car so as to avoid vomiting inside it, as this would cause uncleanliness. The greatest tragedy of Teuvo’s life is that he does not fulfill this final act of determination; he abandons suicide, and presumably his life continues as sadly as previously.

Hannele and her husband represent Dasein who, not through their own choosing, are forced to enter new worlds. In each of their jobs they represent stability; Antti, the youthful IT teacher who replaces the older literature teacher, represents the seemingly invincible world of technology. Hannele, the policewoman, occupies the world of maintaining Gestell, or the framework of everday life. As such her way of life is most in Heideggerian terms most inauthentic: upholding Gestel consumes all her energy, such that she is not prepared to enter into new worlds.

This upholding of Gestell is seen at a personal level, when she refuses to take sick leave form work after begin traumatised by seeing the two dead bodies in the motel, insisting on going to work because of a shortage of staff. But Hannele’s upholding of Gestel occurs also at a symbolic level: as a police officer her task is to ensure that all others occupy a common ethical world.

Hannele and Antti are the only characters in to dwell in the same place throughout the film. Their dwelling, an idyllic wooden house, an icon of homeliness, represents security, against which the tragedy of their lives is contrasted. The two are thrown from their secure worlds and forced to confront the notion of death. Hannele encounters death when she sees the corpses in the motel bathroom, while Antti meets death when he hears of Hannele’s own death.

Being the symbolic upholder of Gestell, Hannele is unable to accept the notion of death, or the notion of an “end” to things; she tries to cling to her familiar world of continuity by using tranquilising medication. Antti on the other hand, having had to come to terms with Hannele’s death, is free to recognise endings to familiar meanings, and thus he is dares to enter the world that is revealed to him by killing Tuomas.

The writer studies architecture in the Helsinki University of Technology