WHEELBARROWS AND SUBJECTIVISM
- October 10, 2013
In this article I would like to talk about a few symbols and themes which appear at the beginning of the second season of Mr Robot. The discussions started in Reddit Posts and have been spreading immensely. No one can deny seeing how often Sam Esmail uses symbolism in the show. But what is the meaning behind the red wheelbarrow?
The revolution continues without a recognized leader. While politicians try to calm down the people and maintain the lie that everything is under control, the banking business is a single chaos and Fsociety sympathisers are sawing off the testicles of a huge golden bull statue (when else would be the perfect opportunity to do that?).
Elliot is living at his mother’s house and tries his best to maintain his strict monotonous everyday life. Mr Robot is trying to intimidate Elliot. He wants to convince him to to do what he is meant for: to return to Fsociety to help his friends. Elliot tries to ignore him but soon he realises that eliminating Mr Robot is not that simple. New memory lapses which appear and cause the familiar unbearable panic. But Elliot is not the only one who finds himself in a dilemma. Darlene struggles with the task to push the revolution forward. And with the few answered questions, new ones are prompted: What did Gideon tell the FBI? Is Angela in the clutch of evil corp? And where the hell is Tyrell?
In the scene where Elliot introduces the audience to his everyday life and watches the basketball game with Leon, there is a pyromaniac called Carla. Elliot sees her as his “personal totem”. She burns a book but it is not a random book, it is Samuel Beckett’s drama “waiting for Godot” which is a metaphor for forced pointless waiting. Leon also makes waiting a subject of discussion. He talks about the sitcom “Seinfeld” which he started watching previously. The series seems to be plotless. He talks about an episode in which the characters go to a Chinese restaurant without even eating. They are just waiting for a table the entire time. He also talks about another episode in which the characters are stuck in a garage. The absurdity is apparent (“Where’s the story? It just makes no sense.” “Maybe that’s the point – that shit is just pointless.”). In my view the theme of futile waiting is ambigous. On the one hand it refers to Elliot who is waiting for Mr Robot to disappear but he does not realise that his monotonous everyday life does not have the effect he expected. “I’m not to be gotten rid of.” Exactly. At least not in this way. And for that, Elliot’s waiting is pointless. On the other hand it refers to something bigger, to Fsociety and the chaotic situation of society. Revolutions need a leader but because the only one who would have the ability to initiate the next steps, is stuck in a self-built jail in which he is waiting for the elimination of an essential part of himself, it seems to look bad for Fsociety.
Back to Carla: She burned a book in a red wheelbarrow. And on the cover of Elliot’s diary it does not say his name or “diary” but “RED WHEELBARROW”. This mysterious object appears one more time, in episode 3: Two FBI agents pursue Elliot, abduct him from the street and bring him to a deserted hall. They fill concrete and water into…right, into a red wheelbarrow. They fill the mixture into a funnel and the funnel into Elliot’s throat. Let’s wind back the plot: Elliot is angry at Mr Robot. He swallows adderall pills. Nine of them. And his last thought before he get caught is “Is this the FBI? Did Gideon rat me out?” His fear is immense. Paranoia and hallucinations are not unusual effects of an overdose of such a medicament. Every detail indicates that it is likely that this scene only happens in Elliot’s mind. By the way, we have already seen the man with the glasses in episode one of season two, in the café where Elliot talked to Leon. Back to the red wheelbarrow, there is a poem with this title.
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
-William Carlos Williams
I think at first sight it seems to be ironic. How could so much depend on such a banal object? The thought appears absurd to the reader but not to the narrator. And that is the point. The reader does not see things through the eyes of the narrator but through his own. Everything is subjective: our feelings, our view, our conception of the world. It is like everyone is living in his own reality. That’s the case with Elliot. We must not forget who he is. He is a hacker who suffers from social anxiety and a dissociative personality disorder. He is addicted to drugs, paranoid and in addition to that his memory lapses lead to confusion. He can not remember every of his actions. He is the definition of an unrealiable narrator.
“But what’s the truth? Maybe all of it. Maybe none of it”. Ray said it himself. You just don’t know and you are not able to get these information because of the limited perspective of narration. Some people hypothesis that nothing of what is shown is real. Elliot could lay drivelling in a bed in a mental hospital and everything what is shown in the series could take place in his mind. There are details which support this thesis. There are a few scenes which just seem to be unreal. In some conversations you get the impression that Elliot could read the mind of the people he speaks to. (e.g.in episode 1 of season 2 Elliot thinks: “He just discovered Seinfeld. And he talks to much about it. It’s really fucking with him.” Leon: “It’s really fucking with me.”) It could just be one of several stylistic devices which are used in films and shows to make the audience laugh…or confused. The scene with Carla also attracted my attention. A “hot pyromaniac” who is burning a significant play next to a basketball field…no one is even looking at her except of Elliot. I have to say that this seems to be really odd.
Lots of approaches for interpretations but no definite result. I think that the boundaries between reality and hallucinations fade and that it is inevitable that the we have to deal with this one question: What is reality?