"Birth"... Of Endless Second Chances

by Shian (NamoAmituofo), thedailyenlightenment.com, Nov 29, 2004

Plot: A woman becomes convinced that a 10 year old boy is her dead husband reborn.

As described in the movie's website, "Birth" is a "metaphysical love story that explores the space between what we know and what we feel." We see Anna (played by Nicole Kidman) initially disbelieving a boy to be her deceased husband Sean reborn. She gradually begins to accept the possibility and embraces his claim to be true... before attempting to relinquish the idea. But was it just sheer delusion? Or is there more than meets the eye?

Ironically, the late Sean did not subscribe to any truth in the reality of rebirth. He was a materialist who disbelieved the existence of mind beyond matter at life's end. Yet ten years after his demise, a boy, also called Sean (played by Cameron Bright) comes out of the blue, firmly proclaiming himself as the Sean, possessively staking his "birthright" claim on Anna as his wife. At the same time, he stubbornly rejects his mother as his, saying he isn't her son anymore. If he truly sees the nature of rebirth and the many lovingly supportive interconnecting relationships involved, would he not be grateful to all instead?

Is it not frightening if all of us start remembering our past lives overnight? Will we begin staking claims on things already not ours? Chaos indeed! Somewhat opposite to wisely detached Tibetan Buddhist Tulkus (recognised reborn masters, who return to our world out of compassion to help others) recalling past spiritual attainments, Sean recognises the prize of his previous samsaric attainment - his marriage to Anna, and clings to it. Perhaps then, it is a blessing that most of us deluded beings do not readily recall our past lives? Imagine the accumulated past attachment and grudges all remembered and relived. What suffering to be unable to let go! Isn't it much more crucial to live now and let bygones by bygones? As much as we would find it appalling if enemies from previous lives come forth to claim bad debts from us, let us forgive and forget now, so as to not become such enemies to others ourselves. Why carry over worldly attachment and aversion from life to life? Why not live life afresh with open possibilities? Moving along spiritually, let us move on from the samsaric. Though easier said than done, if you love someone, set them free. But what would you do if past loves return to haunt you in the flesh?

The audience is kept guessing as to whether Sean is just a crafty kid or the "real thing", as he claims uncannily accurate deja vu knowledge of his previous life. However, it was after the discovery of a collection of love letters written by the previous Sean that the boy Sean "decided" that he was in love with Anna, and "assume" his identity. His unflinching persistence hints of his seriousness, though he might simply be a devious or deluded child tired of his present life's identity. Perhaps he was out to bluff, perhaps he believed himself to be Sean, or perhaps he really was? As uncertain as Anna, we are unsure. But even if he really was Sean, do people not change from moment to moment, from life to life? Who was Anna or Sean trying to hold on to then? Not so much out to prove or disprove the reality of rebirth, this movie demonstrates the nature of human attachment - of how it breaks hearts as easily as it brings joy, when love is lost and (re)found.
Being the unenlightened beings that we are, being strongly attached to each other embraces not just our love, but our dark sides too. You do not just get the promised rose garden or bed of roses - but the thorns in them too. Sean the boy realised from Clara (played by Anne Heche) that the previous Sean did not send the love letters, so as to "prove" his loyalty to Clara, his mistress. With this startling revelation, he decided to confess to Anna that he wasn't really Sean. Maybe he was disgusted with the previous Sean. Maybe he truly loved Anna and was afraid of breaking her heart, should she discover "his" past secret affair. Maybe he was shaken wide awake that if he was really Sean, he would have had stronger feelings for Clara instead of Anna when he saw her. Yet maybe the letters awoke fragments of past memories that he really loved Anna more? Nobody knows.

Perhaps it doesn't matter if the boy Sean was really Anna's husband. What mattered to her was that she took him to be really "him". Thus was her heart broken twice by "Sean" - once by his death, and the second time upon realisation that the boy might not be Sean after all. How many times must we relive a broken heart by not letting the past go? Our fresh new life begins the very moment we mindfully let our past go.

In a bittersweet conclusion, Sean leaves Anna with a farewell love letter of sorts, ending with "I guess I'll see you in another life." There will always be another chance to be samsaric lovers, as long as we remain unenlightened. In fact, there can be "endless" second chances to relive our past loves. But where does it lead us to, if we only cling on tightly to each other, falling deeper and deeper... into the abyss of the samsaric sea of love? May our love become more and more true. May true love rescue and not bind us. May it set us free.

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