I can’t remember who said it, and I may be mashing many people’s words together, “when there is nothing external to give our life meaning, then all that matters is what we do.” Which is another way of saying “survival is insufficient.”
I loved Station Eleven. It struck a number of chords in me. There are some spoilers in the review.
Station Eleven is about loss, meaning and human connection before, during and after a global pandemic that wipes out most humans and human civilization. The timeline is not linear and there are multiple point of view characters.
Arthur Leander sought fame, immortality, and finally connection in his life. All of the POV characters are looking for meaning in their lives before and after the pandemic. Arthur is the connective tissue between the POV characters. His death is unrelated to the pandemic, but the impact of his death is felt even as the world as we know it dies. Through this connection, he gains a kind of immortality. The character most poised for lasting immortality is Arthur’s first wife, Miranda. Miranda did not seek fame or attention. Her life’s work was the creation of Station Eleven, a graphic novel series she drew and wrote for herself. Because of Arthur, Miranda’s Station Eleven survives into the new world.
Loss is an inescapable part of living. Before the pandemic we see loss of youth, loss of dreams, and loss of love. Interestingly, I don’t think Mandel gives less weight to the pre-pandemic loss than she does to the loss experienced during and after, but leaves it up to the reader to determine value. In the context of his life, Arthur’s losses and his regrets are as profound for him as the losses Kirsten experiences – loss of family, loss of safety, loss of innocence, and loss of civilization – are to her. The loss that affected me most profoundly is the loss of knowledge.
None of the older Symphony members knew much about science, which was frankly maddening given how much time these people had had to look things up on the Internet before the world ended.
Looking things up on the internet is practically my reason to be.
Aside from a few shocking moments, life is mostly made of mundane moments. This is true whether you are a famous movie star in the age of the internet, or an itenerate player in a Traveling Symphony moving through an uncertain post apocalypse. What has been lost resonates with the characters even before they have any idea how much more they will lose. Characters embrace what has been lost and build something new, or let go of what has been lost and build something new.
I think the characters are kept closely connected to show that what we do matters. The choices that Arthur, Miranda, Jeevan and Clark make affect others and leave a lasting impression that carries into the future. By sharing what they have with others, they leave a light in a world going dark. The Prophet is the foil. Instead of sharing, he takes. In taking from others in the certainty that he is right, he makes what is left of the world darker. He does find purpose beyond mere survival, but it’s the kind of punitive, divisive purpose that drives us further into destruction.