Ship of Theseus

The Theseus paradox questions the idea of authenticity and identity. If all original parts of an object are replaced with similar parts, does the object retain its identity or does it attain a new identity?

All cells of a human body regenerate entirely in 7 years. Statistics suggest that globally over 1,00,000 organs are transplanted every year. Our ideologies, principles, beliefs, all change with time and our current level of maturity. Extending the Theseus paradox, which is originally based on a ship, to human beings, can we then say we are the same person after all the replacements?

I recently watched a beautiful film ‘Ship of Theseus’, which as the name suggests, is inspired by the Theseus paradox. There is a wealth of thought-provoking little nuggets scattered in this film. The film was released in July 2013 but it is not very well-known. It did not gain mass popularity because it is not for the audience seeking entertainment. Everyone may not appreciate this film because it is a different kind of cinema which is not for the wider audience.

The film tells three stories, one after the other. The first story is about a young independent woman who takes up photography after she loses her sight to cornea infection. She gets a transplant and regains her sight. Instead of becoming a better photographer, being able to see overwhelms her and she is unable to focus on her subject.

The second story is about a monk who fights a case against cruel treatment of animals by the pharmaceutical industry. The monk learns that he has liver cirrhosis. He now faces the dilemma of whether or not to take medicines manufactured by the very pharmaceutical companies against whom he fighting for animal rights. The monk appears as a Jain monk on various counts, however, it is a fictitious religion that he follows, inspired from Jainism and Buddhism combined. There is a meaningful prayer that he recites in the film. This is a prayer written in Prakrit specifically for the film.

The third story is about a young stockbroker, who undergoes a kidney transplant and is touched by the incident of a poor labourer whose kidney was stolen. He traces the recipient back to Stockholm and tries to find a solution for him.

All the three stories have one thing in common — organ transplant.

The movie ends with a small video showing the interior of a cave. It is inspired by Plato’s The Cave, in his best-known work, The Republic. In the allegory, he likens people to prisoners chained in a cave watching shadows and believing them to be real. The man seen in the cave in the video seems transfixed by the wall and his own shadow cast upon it. He doesn’t make his way out.

The film received strongly positive critical response. If you are inclined towards philosophy and want to do some soul-searching, I would strongly recommend you to watch this movie.