I took an introductory course in chemistry at the same time as I took Philosophy, so the concepts of attraction and repulsion were hanging out together in my cerebral cortex at the time I watched the movie and wrote this report.
I originally thought Albert, Brad, and Tommy were all one person metaphorically fragmented, but if that were true why would Brad and Tommy have existence outside of Albert’s perception? I came to see each character as separate, circling around Albert’s own fragmented, unbalanced process of self-discovery. Brad is pure ambition, driven to conquer everything in his path through charm and calculated likability. Tommy is raw, random idealism housed in a shell of heroic hostility. Dawn represents narcissistic struggle, alternately begging to be stared at and demanding that we stop staring at her. The investigators work together – one aggressive, persistent, and intrusive, the other calm, instructive, and nurturing – to help Albert take down the walls and find out how he is connected to the world. Caterine represents a cynical view of the same world, where all is alone – unconnected – and nothing matters. The investigators teach Albert to open his mind and examine his thoughts, while the nihilistic Caterine teaches him to stop thinking altogether.
The two sides of the investigation remind me of something I learned just last week, in my Chemistry course. Nothing is solid; we are all structures made out of bits of matter surrounded by comparatively large amounts of space, held together by magnetic forces. Examining the opposing views of the investigators and their former prize pupil, this can be taken to mean that everything is connected – through the constantly mingling electrons – or that all matter is ultimately alone, untouched by other matter. We are attracted and repulsed, seemingly moving towards and away from each other, but in fact we are constantly circling, orbiting, but desperately clawing to get closer and further away at the same time. The symmetry of attraction and repulsion whipsaws us back and forth, between giddy, joyous attraction and hideous, depressing repulsion, until we accept this bizarre contradiction and, to borrow an old, tired cliche, learn to ‘go with the flow’.
Albert learns, through Caterine, that there can be pleasure in human drama. This opens his mind to the idea that both sides of the investigation are on the correct track, but themselves fragmented and unbalanced. Albert sees that connectedness and disconnectedness each have a role in human drama, circling each other; the metaphorical electrons try to pull everything together while the inertia of the center mass hides beneath its electron shield. He uses the analogy of nice things growing out of manure, which is easier to sniff out (sorry) but I think the better analogy would be that attraction and repulsion create a circling, swirling balance. The only way to stay on our feet is to, figuratively but also a little bit literally, keep our balance.