On Regret

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
“To regret deeply is to live afresh.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Submitted: August 11, 2011

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Submitted: August 11, 2011



Perhaps one of the best examples of a character who exemplifies the essence of coming to terms with what it means to “regret” can be found in the final few minutes of the film, The Big Kahuna.  In this film, Danny DeVito plays the part of “Phil Cooper,” an industrial lubricants salesman, who through a string of events, finds himself enlightening a young religious fanatic as to what it means to attain “character.” For Cooper, “character” can only be attained when one realizes their regrets.  He states to the young christian:


“When you see the folly in something you’ve done, and you wish that you had it to do over...but you know you can’t, cause’ it’s too late.  So you pick that thing up and you carry it with you to remind you that life goes on.  The world will spin without you.  You really don’t matter in the end.  Then you will attain character, because honesty will reach out from inside, and tattoo itself all across your face.”


This scene, needless to say, can send shockwaves through a viewer, when these lines are presented with the wisdom in DeVito’s own face, embedded in the wrinkles, the lack of hair and the smoker’s voice, without any interrupting soundtrack or cuts away from his speaking.  However, it is the dewy nature of his eyes, so deep and dark, but full of experience, which hit you head on.  They stop you in your tracks and make you dwell on every word. 


For the young christian, who believes that he has a special secret that everyone needs to hear, this kind of truth can mean very little, because he has already taught himself that all he needs in life is his religion and the tenants found within.  But he does feel that the wise person that he wants to be, much like the Cooper character, is one that he will never come to realize himself as, for inside he knows that such self-realization can only come from throwing away such tenants which he presently holds on to for dear life.


Outside the obvious beauty that can be found in viewing this film, the question of what constitutes as regret seems not to be of much debate.  People who have lived past their teenage years, seem to wish that they had done things when they were younger, at the very least, and so it begins.  But is regret simply a sense of disappointment in oneself?  Cannot regret be a sense of self-awareness which when taken to the furthest extent, places us in a framework by which our future lives should derive, if anything, the ability to avoid making the same mistakes again?


And yet, we humans continue to error.  We continue to hurt each other and screw up our own lives, regardless of the context, regardless of all the factors that could possibly matter.  If you have ever met someone who claims that they do not in fact regret anything, or if they, like Sinatra sings in “My Way,” have few regrets, in fact, “too few to mention,” does that mean that they are in some way closer to the mind set of a serial killer than the rest of us?  Or are they more superior to us, for our own weak emotional states make us remember more regretful moments and dwell in them, than Frank, etc.?

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