Jennifer Wilber is an author and freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in creative writing and English.
How Does the Movie K-Pax Represent the Transcendentalism Movement?
It may be strange to think of a modern science fiction film as having anything to do with an early 20th century philosophical movement, but there are many ideas presented in the movie K-Pax that mirror the transcendentalist worldview. In K-Pax, Kevin Spacey’s character, Prot, is a great example of transcendentalist philosophy. There are many examples from the movie to support this claim. Several things Prot says to Mark throughout the movie definitely make Prot seem like he holds transcendentalist beliefs.
What is Transcendentalism?
Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that originated in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. Transcendentalist beliefs emphasize subjective intuition over objective empiricism. Transcendentalists believe that the individual is capable of generating completely original insights with little input from external ideas. They believe in the inherent goodness of people and of nature and believe that individuals are at their best when they are self-reliant and independent, rather than relying on societal conventions.
Individual Truth is Truth
One of the main beliefs in Transcendentalism is that individual truth is truth, which means that a person’s Individual beliefs are always a valid form of truth for the individual. This idea is present in the movie K-Pax. When Mark tells Prot that he doesn’t believe that he is really from the planet K-Pax, Prot replies, "I will admit the possibility that I am Robert Porter, if you will admit the possibility that I am from K-Pax." With this statement, Prot acknowledges the fact that Mark doesn’t believe that he is from K-Pax any more than Prot believes that he is actually Robert Porter. He is also pointing out that it doesn’t matter who is right, because they each have their own realities, though he will take Mark’s beliefs into consideration if Mark will consider his.
This statement illustrates transcendentalist beliefs because transcendentalists believe that “individual truth is truth” which means that everyone’s beliefs are true to them. Transcendentalists also won’t completely dismiss anyone else’s beliefs, because individual truth is also “paradoxically universal.” Prot doesn’t care if Mark believes him, as long as he himself knows that he is from K-Pax, though he will consider Mark’s idea that he is Robert Porter if Mark will consider the possibility that he is from K-Pax.
The Interconnectivity of Nature
Another important belief in transcendentalism is that everything in nature is interconnected. Transcendentalists believe that all actions in nature have an impact on everything else in the universe. This belief is also represented in the movie K-Pax. “...There’s enough life on Earth to fill fifty planets, all bouncing off each other, feeding off each other, connected...” Prot tells Mark after Mark said he might want to see K-Pax, and Prot told him he should see more of his own planet. what he means by this is that everything on Earth is interconnected.
Similarly, transcendentalists believe that everything in nature is interconnected. This is also similar to what Prot says in the movie about how the universe is always expanding and collapsing back into itself, and that everyone lives through everything over and over again, repeating the same mistakes over and over. For this to be true, everything in the universe would have to be connected to this cycle of rebirth, rather than being completely random and independent from everything else.
This deterministic view of the universe does conflict with transcendental beliefs, however, as transcendentalists believe in social responsibility and free will. If the universe were constantly repeating itself over and over in an endless cycle, people would be less inclined to take responsibility for their actions. If the universe were predetermined, no one would bother trying to correct their mistakes. This viewpoint stands in opposition to the transcendentalist view of the individual. Though there are some differences between Prot’s apparent beliefs and the beliefs of transcendentalism, Prot and transcendentalists do both believe in the interconnectedness of the universe.
Organized Religion and Transcendentalism
A third idea that is important to the transcendentalist belief system is a rejection of organized religion. Transcendentalists believe that organized religion gets in the way of true spirituality and that the individual must figure out spiritual matters on their own instead of relying on a specific religion for guidance. Prot also said, “You humans, most of you, subscribe to this policy of an eye for an eye, a life for a life, which is known throughout the universe for its... stupidity. Even your Buddha and your Christ had quite a different vision; but nobody's paid much attention to them, not even the Buddhists or the Christians.” At the end of this quote, Prot is essentially saying that most people who try so hard to follow a specific religion don’t really pay attention to the actual core message of the religion they claim to follow, which defeats its purpose. This statement illustrates transcendentalist beliefs because transcendentalists believe that everyone should find their own path to God, rather than depending on an organized religion that was created by man and influenced by the cultural values and ideas of the society that created it.
The movie K-Pax illustrates the three core beliefs of the transcendentalist worldview. Prot definitely could be considered a transcendentalist based on many of the things he said in the movie. He says many things throughout the movie that hint at a transcendentalist world view such as individual truth is truth, everything in nature is interconnected, and that there is no need for organized religion. Perhaps everyone on the planet K-Pax is a transcendentalist.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber
Sam Shepards from Europe on June 23, 2018:
Thank you for the analysis. Been over 10 years I've seen the movie, time for a rewatch.