Rick and Morty is an existentialist fever dream that speaks honestly to our times
The beauty of Rick and Morty is like the shining gleam upon a swirl of water rapidly approaching its drain.
Morty, a timid young man with a perfectly whiny voice, becomes the plaything of his genius grandfather, a mad scientist who can manipulate the world like a God, and as a result, has become a drunken nihilist with an occasional heart of gold.
The family drama of Morty, his now-divorced parents, his sister Summer and the series anti-hero Rick create a science fiction comedy like no other. It's a traditional sitcom for the most part, but it sits squarely at the modern void in the heart of most young people, who see themselves as the inheritors of a world that does not make sense, with no vision to guide it forward.
The world of Rick and Morty is founded on broken promises. The promise of The Enlightenment, the scientific revolution, an idealistic humankind ascending to the stars on the backs of mathematics and string theory, have led to a madhouse, not a paradise. Technology, instead of empowering humankind, has made Rick Sanchez a God and the universe into his plaything.
Kant's old refrain of "have the courage to use your own reason" meets the ultimate nihilism of Morty's rant to his sister Summer:
"Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody's going to die. Come watch TV."
If anything is the mantra of the failed hero story, it would be this sentiment. If anything could justify an amorphous existence of infinite subjectivity with no conclusion and no true identity, no developed individual self, it would be this line.
But the show doesn't arrive here out of malice. It's not an angry, resentful show. It's a show that understands that humankind seems utterly lost in the annals of history, and that no technological superman fantasy can change that. 2000 years after the death of Christ, there is no catharsis, no release, no ultimate coalescence of the waves of history into an ultimate DNA spiral aimed at the face of God.
Instead, it seems, we have been swallowed by the mouth of God, resembling the Titan Kronos of Greek legend consuming his own children. In our 21st century of depression, social media, endless warfare, intense guilt and lack of individual purpose, we resemble orphaned children devoured by our Gods, not ambitious strivers searching for a better world.
Think of episodes like Total Rickall, where an alien life form able to change memories can distort an entire family's love in a single instant. If memory cannot be relied upon, then nothing can be relied upon. Our friendships, ideas, emotional currents and impulses are all completely relative, shifting on a dime. The self, truly, is an illusion in a world where real memories are interchangeable with fantasy.
And if science in our real world is soon to eclipse our humanity, soon to render us all pawns of electrons and microscopic reactions with no free will and no stable foundation for the individual self, then the scenarios of Rick and Morty are the scenarios of our own future.
This is why the show is so powerful - this 'history beyond the end of history' is palpably our own. It is the condition of the lost individual in our times. The show just makes it funny.
So, where in Rick and Morty is there hope? Where is there beauty beyond the madness?
It seems, to me, that Morty's family, love between family members, and the genuine development and improvement of their close relationships, is the only source of light in the show's universe. Even if it is all a chaotic unknown mess, those moments of love still shine through the series, and its format as a traditional sitcom bolsters the family as a system of genuine meaning.
The most truthful thing about Rick and Morty is that the show is not asking us "Can Rick save the universe?" Instead, it asks the far more difficult question: "Can Rick save himself?" Indeed, in the real world, if we cannot save ourselves, how can we possibly save something as complicated as the world?