Centuries ago, Jean-Jacques Rousseau envisioned a world in which men could coexist happily and flourish through communitarianism. So did Karl Marx. And so did Tim Thomas, the protagonist of Gabriele Muccino’s Seven pounds, whose concept of sharing did not involve democratic forums a la Rousseau or a denouncement of the atomizing effects of capitalism a la Marx. Tim’s notion seems born out of a “one with the Universe structure” in which life ends but begins through the dismembering of his body that will endure in the physicality of others. His heart goes to Emily, a kind and open young woman born with a congenital failure, and his eyes go to Ezra, a blind and slow to anger gifted pianist. Other than a woman who is the recipient of Tim’s worldly possessions, the other beneficiaries remain more obscure that the aforementioned characters. In this way, Tim’s self and body become ubiquitous, occupying different spaces at the same time and able to defeat death by providing a fuller life to those who ail. Through these unusual actions, Tim’s vision is one that liberates the body from its prison, an ideal that allows humans to flourish through dispersion in a great time where the technologies that span the globe have managed to make the planet more interconnected.
Many would object to the technological era that has enveloped the present, claiming that its advances have alienated humankind by allowing an illusion of self-sufficiency thwart face-to-face interaction. However, Muccino circumvents this issue allowing us to understand that technology has facilitated that connection: Tim speaks to Ezra on the phone, and conveys to Emily that she is the recipient of a new heart through a pager. Technological mediation either becomes a lifeline or the passage to a fuller life. However, this technology means nothing without the human component. Doctors cannot “fix” an unfit or incomplete body: the heart and the eyes that Tim provides are the real salvation. The interesting complication of this film resides in the character who receives Tim’s possessions. While health ailments follow the aforementioned model, human created problems such as a broken family (due to an abusive partner) are not mediated by technology but by heartfelt handwritten words and the gifting of material items. It would seem like this film is advocating for a return to those Rousseaunian values of community, or perhaps even a normative desire to believe in said philosopher’s state of nature. While technology and progress mediates nature’s faults, human conflict must be resolved through the traditional moral values of generosity and material detachment.
Believing in rescuing the old values in addition to his defense of technology, the director also advocates for an intelligent use of both. After all, Tim is the one who fixes Emily’s vintage press that others were unable to repair, while also “fixing” Emily, Ezra and others with his dismemberment and detachment. He is the vehicle of Rousseau’s communitarian values as much as he is the one character that finally understands (after his partner’s death) what it really means to strike a balance between human relations and an intelligent use of modern technology.
By donating 7 pounds of flesh, Tim can right a wrong, or so the director believes. The protagonist’s life is redeemed in this second chance: donating his organs and possessions gives him a different yet newfound life, a ubiquity that his dispersed self (body and possessions) weaves into a web. The interwoven humanity, best personified in that hug between Emily and Ezra in the last frame of the film, defends the Internet culture in which each hub connects to another and closes the distance across the world. The important thing to remember is that, despite threats like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, computers and any other technological advances are created and operated by human beings and without people loving, caring for themselves and others, and forming communitarian networks humans are unable to see and feel, to live a rich, long and full life.
Even though some lives may be cut short, such as Tim’s wife’s (who dies in a car accident he causes) the protagonist chooses to stage his death at the hands of nature: electrocution with a jellyfish. Once out his body, his organs will have a new beginning not fraught with thoughts of guilt or pain, but a Benthamian perspective of making the maximum number of people happy at the expense of the fewest, or in this case simply compensation with one pound of flesh for each death that he has caused. Muccino tells us clearly that, when used in the right way, the eyes and heart can and should be tools for good, aided by both technology and nature. This balance is imperative to achieving human flourishing.
Though Seven Pounds is not a great film, it is one that helps to gain perspective on our historical moment, of a world in which technology and its threats have been used both for progress and destruction, a planet where fear and war have atomized the world into distrustful nations, these nations into populations and populations into individuals. If every life lost upon the misuse of technology were to be compensated, no scale would be able to bear the weight. Seven Pounds provides a small-magnitude example of how this world can become an ideal place, just like Rousseau planned centuries ago. The scale that weighs those pounds of flesh seems to bear a resemblance to that being held by the blind, stoic trademark statue of justice. Perhaps what this film proposes, and what is in order in today’s reality, is stepping on that scale to see what kind of a balance we have created.