“Every journey ends, but we go on. The world turns and we turn with it. Plans disappear. Dreams take over. But wherever I go, there you are – my luck, my fate, my fortune.”
It could be a segment of profound poetry or philosophy. It could be a brilliant line from a piece deconstructing the annual futility of making resolutions only for them to be broken. But it is none of those, it finishes: “Chanel No. 5. Inevitable.” It is Brad Pitt advertising perfume.
The advert has been derided as dreadful and the words mocked as nonsensical. It even got the Saturday Night Live treatment. It is bad because it tries to give existential meaning to a perfume. Something that is literally and essentially cosmetic is imbued with life changing significance. The words are only laughable because they are being applied to a perfume.
While it was not written about New Year’s resolutions, it could have been. It could have been about our efforts to make things better, and how it so often comes to nothing. Gym memberships bought but not used even once. Pledges to quit vices that take their toll on you. Or take up virtues in a quest of improvement. Of the material and the spiritual, the squash lessons and Bible reading plans. The hopes and the dreams we want to pursue, and at the turn of the year set out to achieve with a resurgence of passion and determination.
Brad Pitt’s words, filmed in black and white as he smoulders towards the camera in dishevelled clothing, are meaningless not because of their content but because of their purpose. I remember watching an advert in the cinema and thinking it was making some great points about our trust in institutions, only to then be disappointed to find it was trying to sell me insurance from Hiscox.
Resolutions, of whatever flavour, are given substance because of why we want to achieve them. Challenges and goals that are disconnected from the story we are living are never likely to fare well. We can want to lose weight, become fitter, pray every morning, but if we do not have a reason for these things they are likely to fall by the wayside. Dreams and plans sometimes compete and sometimes help each other. Sometimes flights of instant fancy put pay to our prior determination.
But talk of living a meaningful story is a bit empty. What if we have little clue about the story we are living? The start of the year is always filled with talk of hopes and fears. But if don’t have those, does it make you hopeless or fearless? I don’t feel that way, even without colour-coded, time-managed, path-dependant goals for each part of my life, I still have hope. And although I am not quaking in anticipation at a colossal change to my life, I still am sometimes afraid.
What is maybe inevitable is that I won’t buy Chanel No. 5, and the world will go on. And whether we succeed or fail at our efforts to improve this year the world will continue to turn. Whether life throws rocks at us or lays out the red carpet, the world will continue to turn. But we don’t have to be passive in the face of the eternal march of time. Maybe this is a year to find out what my story is, and maybe then my words will have more meaning than Brad Pitt selling perfume or Benedict Cumberbatch promoting insurance.