An Encounter With Simone Weil

Julia Haslett

USA 2011.

The film tells the story of French philosopher, activist, and mystic, Simone Weil (1909-1943) who spent most of her too-short life advocating for the rights of the socially and politically disadvantaged. On her quest to understand Simone Weil, filmmaker Julia Haslett confronts profound questions of moral responsibility both within her own family and the broader context of 21st century America – using Weil’s writings and teachings as a framework for her own experience.

The French philosopher, political thinker, and mystic, Simone Weil (1909-1943) is one of the rare figures of the last century to have fully united a way of thought with a way of life. She accomplished this to such an extent that her final act of sacrifice was an affirmation of her own life.

Entering only the margins of academic circles, Weil appeared too disturbing a figure, too radical, and too out of sync with this world to ever be contained within the insincerity of conventional thought. Weil emerged out of what was a world of profound suffering and inequality. Her chosen path was a world few of us can conceive; a life without the affirmation and security of an organized work-life, a world where few politicians envision a society based on equality and human dignity, and fewer have the courage to face their own shortcomings. In other words, she was one of the few to feel the necessary impulse of existence, an urge or compulsion towards the meaning of being human, and to embody this necessity in our mode of living, our sense of others, of thinking, of beauty. The violence of Weil’s thought and her life teach us something profound about politics and human existence.
In viewing the American filmmaker Julia Haslett’s unique film about Simone Weil, one senses very clearly that Simone Weil is a voice that cannot be exclusively political, since her political concepts are not simply directed at political power and ideology but, like engaged literature, are about seriousness, the intensity of feeling, and moral sensibility. What does it mean to take life seriously? What does it mean to be human? These seem to me to be the questions with which Haslett is struggling.

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