Today, one wishes Rick and Morty were not just an animated sci-fi sitcom

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MangaloreDiary News
MangaloreDiary News

The ability to imagine alternate universes is also the ability to understand others, especially those who differ vastly from us.

In an alternate universe, S Durga and Nude would have played at the 48th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa last month. That universe would also be one in which S Durga could use its original title — Sexy Durga — without irking the over-burdened gatekeepers of Indian culture and conscience. In it, crucially, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting would decide to not overrule the IFFI jury’s decision to showcase the two films.

It’s one of those times when one wishes that Rick and Morty was not just an animated sci-fi sitcom. Increasingly, its enthusiastic exploration of alternate cosmic realities appears a necessary antidote to a world that takes itself far too seriously.

Having broadened its cult-like following after Netflix acquired streaming rights to the show in a few countries, Rick and Morty, for the most part, has defied description. Rick, an alcoholic scientist, and his 14-year-old grandson Morty, go on adventures in alternate universes. Inevitably, they find themselves in trouble. The resolution of each episode impacts them and their family in significant ways. However, the alternate universes are where mayhem unfurls, all rules are bent, and one slowly begins to lose grip of what the show is really about.

Cosmic horror

Rick and Morty is likely to strike a note with fans of another genius. Over half a century ago, Satyajit Ray’s brilliant scientist Professor Trilokeshwar Shonku was introduced to Bengali readers. If you find Rick’s spacecraft appealing, remember that the professor’s Shankoplane got there first.Rick and Morty’s popularity should have served as ample inspiration to update Professor Shonku’s stories and finally bring them to screen. Fortunately, Satyajit’s son, Sandip Roy, has taken on the task of adapting one of the Shonku stories, ‘Nakur Babu O El Dorado’, and it’s release is scheduled for late-2018.

While Professor Shonku is unlikely to have inspired it, the influences on Rick and Morty are varied. Starting as a riff on Back to the Future, it dabbles in nihilistic philosophy, constantly stressing the meaninglessness of life (a character actually quotes Nietzsche).

Cosmic horror is the underlying theme in Rick and Morty, where ordinary life is truly a thin shell over a bizarre reality. It is striking to wonder, for instance, what Albert Camus — again, in an alternate universe? — might have felt after watching Rick and Morty. His immortal lines from The Stranger have never felt so apt: “… for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.”

In each episode, the makers appear to consider a question of importance and almost immediately smash it to bits. Consider the episode in which Rick and Morty travel to a reality in which they their alternate selves are killed. The two conveniently bury their dead selves and take their place. The reason? They’d messed up irreparably in another reality. If our lives aren’t sacred, what is? If our reality isn’t real at all, which reality is? The show’s real genius lies in its proficiency at expanding our minds while also informing us of the slipperiness of reality.

The ability to imagine alternate universes is also the ability to understand others, especially those who differ vastly from us.

Sense of purpose

Rick and Morty stresses the importance of science, exploration, and observation. Its unabashed celebration of mind over matter is especially poignant in times when anti-intellectualism is on the rise, and science treated with disdain. What else explains the U.S. turning away from crucial climate change evidence, or India finding a renewed fascination with scientifically-discredited treatments such as homoepathy?

Of course, all this mostly simmers under the mad events of each episode. However, for those who like their lessons in plain words, Morty’s oft-quoted dialogue should suffice: “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.”

The writer is photographer and founder of The Indiestani Project, a poetography collaboration.

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