Re-humanizing Hector

A Review of Hector and the Search for Happiness

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Hector is a psychiatrist, whose life seems perfect, ordered and predictable. The only problem is that he gradually realizes that although his private practice patients have so much, they are perpetually unhappy. Eventually he comes to realize, too, that he is unhappy. It is a classic midlife crisis, he is successful in the world, but the interior meaning and vitality of life elude him.

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Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung wrote that for men, the midlife period marks a time of moving from an external, materialistic orientation to a more inner, spiritual orientation. “Midlife is the time to let go of an overdominant ego and to contemplate the deeper significance of human existence.”

This is exactly what Hector sets off to do. His overdominant ego has controlled and limited his experiences in life, he feels compelled to break his routine and to go off on an adventure. The movie starts with a dream sequence, Hector is flying a biplane, his trusty childhood dog in the co-pilot seat. He loses his dog and instead an assassin attacks him from behind, the plane is running on empty and goes into a dive – and he awakes to another day of the same breakfast, the same patients with the same problems and a very pleasant, but measured life. His childhood dreams were of being a pilot, flying, exploring the world (he has Tintin memorabilia in his office), yet he lives his life in complete safety and isolation in his office. One of his most endearing clients is a clairvoyant who has lost her ability to tell the future and feels like she is inauthentic. She also gives Hector prescient advice.

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At first Hector thinks he needs to go on a journey to do research so he can better help his clients learn what true happiness is, but he eventually realizes that he himself is too controlled to know true happiness and that his quest is, in reality, for self, to live and experience happiness.

He travels to China, meets a businessman and sees all of what money can buy, but it is not happiness. He goes to Tibet and feels a brief glimmer of happiness, but he loses it. He goes to South Africa where his friend from university practices in a free health clinic. Here he sees his friend living a dream of service to humanity, and of being loved for who he is. But this is also a very dangerous place, as Hector soon finds out. He bumbles along, his kindness to others making him friends and people are changed in subtle ways around him (for instance he sorts out a drug lord’s wife’s psychiatric medication and this has a small humanizing effect on the man). Hector next travels to LA, where he seeks out his childhood sweetheart, who is now married, with two kids and pregnant with a third. She teaches him that happiness does not lie in the past. On the flight to LA, he is called upon as a doctor to take care of a woman with terminal brain cancer traveling to see her sister for one last time. He dismisses his kindness and work with the woman as nothing, but she teaches Hector that, “Listening is loving.”

The last lesson he learns is from a psychologist studying happiness through brain imaging. Hector reviews the wide variety of emotional experiences he has undergone, but is still holding back. At one point, something breaks through, and he learns that happiness is feeling everything all at once, fully and deeply. Happiness is a by-product of being capable of feeling everything. This fits with my experience working with clients and from my own self-observation. It is possible to stop “negative” emotions, but it is at the cost of dampening “positive” emotions as well. The way I think of it, they flow through the same channel, so to speak, and the only choice is to feel it all, or to try to dampen and repress emotions.

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All through the movie, Hector has a small journal that he doodles in and writes down his maxims of happiness. While he learns that lists and aphorisms do not make happiness, it is still worth sharing this list. The movie is based on the successful series of books by the French psychiatrist and author, François Lelord.

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Here is the list from the book:

  1. Making comparisons can spoil your happiness
  2. Happiness often comes when least expected
  3. Many people only see happiness in their future
  4. Many people think happiness comes from having more power or more money
  5. Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story
  6. Happiness is a long walk in beautiful, unfamiliar mountains
  7. It’s a mistake to think that happiness is the goal
  8. Happiness is being with the people you love; unhappiness is being separated from the people you love
  9. Happiness is knowing that your family lacks for nothing
  10. Happiness is doing a job you love
  11. Happiness is having a home and a garden of your own
  12. It’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people
  13. Happiness is feeling useful to others
  14. Happiness is to be loved for exactly who you are (People are kinder to a child who smiles)
  15. Happiness comes when you feel truly alive
  16. Happiness is knowing how to celebrate
  17. Happiness is caring about the happiness of those you love
  18. Happiness is not attaching too much importance to what other people think
  19. The sun and the sea make everybody happy
  20. Happiness is a certain way of seeing things
  21. Rivalry poisons happiness
  22. Women care more than men about making others happy
  23. Happiness means making sure that those around you are happy

This movie is really lovely, funny, heart-warming, profound, and thought-provoking. It portrays a man becoming who he truly is, overcoming his fears and defenses, becoming engaged in the world and being fully human. Simon Pegg is great as Hector. Rosamund Pike does a wonderful job as Hector’s somewhat neurotic girlfriend, who creates medication names for a pharmaceutical company. All the actors are well cast and the movie flows well, despite moving through so many settings and characters. It was directed by Peter Chelsom, who also directed the 2001 film, Serendipity, amongst others.

I just read the recently released book, Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician, by Sandeep Jauhar. I will write a review of this book soon, as the theme of this book, as well as the theme of Hector are relevant to my book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine. The joyless practice of medicine that Dr. Jauhar describes in painfully honest detail aptly captures the dehumanizing elements of medicine. Hector, while a bit of a feel-good romantic comedy, offers a portrayal of one doctor’s attempts at re-humanizing himself, his practice and the larger culture. He creates a counter-curriculum of life experience and he not only writes the book on happiness, he lives it, too. I give it 5 stars for being fully human. (The soundtrack was great, too, but not available yet).

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